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The Art of Hockey IQ (Part 1: The Foundations of Tension-Free Hockey)

Updated: Apr 18

I know this article has been a little late.

These past few months I have been re-building a very detailed workout program called the Freak Athlete System (FAS).

It took a lot of extra research this time looking at experts such as ATG and Charles Poliquin.

It's a detailed program that will help any player from ages 13-20.

It required my full attention to put the final touches on.

It will be available in February 2024 to all Next Level Academy Members because in our academy we focus on the mind first, but then we work on the body and the skills.

The program is going to turn our members into freaky strong, fast, and bulletproof athletes!

I am very excited about the results we will generate with this program so just wanted to share!

Now, back to the article...

Why is hockey IQ so hard to understand?

Isn't it just a bunch of decisions we make on the ice?

Shouldn't we be able to just practice more or study more film and have it all workout?

Of course, we all want that... but if it were that simple, then everyone would have high Hockey IQ.

If everyone had a high hockey IQ, then it would not be special.

Which would mean I would have no reason to talk about it.

Where We Go Wrong With Hockey IQ

Shouldn't we be able to just push ourselves on the ice, workout hard, and see our IQ just naturally improve over time?

The one weak link you will see with most players who work primarily on their skills, and physical body is poor HOCKEY IQ and understanding how to transfer their skills to games.

This is where you get players who have elite-level skills going around pylons but can't play at an elite level.

These players might claim they could go to the top pro leagues, but there is a reason why they are not there - and it's not just a choice.

Of course, that stuff is not easy to master, but it is becoming more and more straightforward with companies like:

  • Identity Shift (Our company which covers mental, physical, and skills development)

  • ATG (Physical Training)

  • Train 2.0 (Mechanics Training)

  • Hockey Hacks (Mechanics & Physical Training)

  • Strength coaches

  • Skills coaches

  • And many more

The skill and physical training is out there to be learned.

So is the general hockey IQ info.

But we are missing that understanding of true hockey IQ which I call Identity Sense.

Identity Sense connects everything

Identity Sense is about raining to game transfer.

This is an example of Belfry doing this with his players over the past 15 years:

Identity sense is about understanding how to bring your training to the games by understanding who you are as a player and the skills you have.

I think this diagram resembles all of the areas a player must develop.

I see Identity Sense as the middle area where everything comes together.

It's knowing how to use the body's physical abilities, technical skills, beliefs, emotions, position, role, Identity, and team tactics, to make the most effective decisions.

I realize that this is infinitely complex, but I want to conceptualize it so that we can talk about it in a more structured way.

Players will struggle to get their minds and body to perform in a connected and cohesive way because they don't understand how to train them in a connected way.

Training them in a connected way starts with language

That is what a true development coach does -> they teach Identity Sense.

Darryl Belfry was the true pioneer in introducing these concepts of development, hockey IQ (and Identity Sense) to hockey to the hockey world and he changed the development game.

In my mind, Darryl Belfry is the best hockey development coach EVER.

There is no close second that I am aware of.

Belfry to me is like the Charles Poliquin of hockey development and IQ.

(Charles is on the left, and Garry Roberts is on the right)

If you don't know, Charles Poliquin was arguably the greatest strength and physical performance coach of all time!

He worked with over 800 Olympic athletes, helping them win medals in over 22 disciplines

He worked with hundreds of professional athletes.

He changed the strength training and physical performance game forever.

One of those players that he worked with was Garry Roberts.

Here's the sorry from the Toronto Star by - Dave Feschuk Sports Columnist:

"In the autumn of 1996, Gary Roberts’s NHL career appeared over. His crash-and-bang style had left him with nerve and disc damage in his neck that doctors told him was irreparable. After years in and out of the lineup and a pair of surgeries, he had been forced into retirement at age 30.

Then Roberts met Charles Poliquin, a strength and conditioning guru under whose exacting tutelage Roberts would spend the ensuing 10 months transforming his body with a commitment to two-a-day workouts and virtuous nutrition. And by the autumn of 1997, Roberts was resuming an NHL career that would continue for another 11 seasons, including a memorable four-year run with the Maple Leafs in which Roberts played 50 playoff games."

Garry now trains many of the best athletes on the planet including:

  • Connor McDavid

  • Steven Stamkos

  • Mark Scheifele

  • Connor Bedard

  • And many more

Charles Poliquin is also the basis of all of the ATG protocols.

If you don't know ATG, you should because they are helping take what Poliquin taught and make it accessible for all athletes.

I base much of my player's programming on their programming.

Why Am I Telling You This Story?

I tell you all of this to make a point that I am using the same approach that Garry to learn from Poliquin.

I am looking to learn from Belfry, Poliquin, ATG, and many more great minds.

The stuff I say is not just pulled out of my a**.

I am taking much of what Darryl Belfry taught in hockey IQ, development, and practice to game skill transfer and making it accessible for all hockey players.

I am taking what I am learning from ATG, Poliquin, Roberts, Westside Barbell and many more, and then applying it to physical training for my players.

I am aiming to follow the path of guys like this.

Maybe one day you will hear about Corson Searles and Identity Shift being studied because we helped change so many players' lives...

Back To Hockey IQ

Let's get back to the point of this video - hockey IQ.

The point I am making is that I think Darryl Belfry is the best hockey development coach of all time.

He made his money teaching hockey IQ as a big part of his coaching.

Even Darryl admits that hockey IQ and transferring skills to games are very complicated.

You might get a fake hockey guru who tells you learning hockey IQ is super simple, and that if you do this one thing - you will be a hockey genius.

They might claim it's easy, but they need to show me some results before they claim how "simple" this stuff is.

You might have someone tell you that if you just master your mechanics or get stronger in the gym, then the rest of the game will magically come together.

These people are lying to you too.

Don't get me wrong, these things are foundational and must be done to open up your optionality on the ice, but if they do not effectively transfer these abilities to the game, then it doesn't matter!

If you just work on your skills and 'look' good then you are training more like a figure skater or a ballerina than an elite hockey player.

Training must transfer to games.

Transferring skills to games is about Identity Sense.

That is where the Identity Shift method comes into the picture...

So You Have The Confidence...

So let's assume that you are a player who has the skills, and confidence, but just can't make the right plays.

For you...

Poor hockey IQ comes from a lack of understanding of who we are as players and how who we are fits into the team.

(if you don't have the confidence then use this lesson: CONFIDENCE MASTERCLASS LESSON

Here's why I think that...

Infinite Options

Think of playing the NHL video game.

There is nearly an infinite number of combinations of movements we can do on the ice.

No game will ever be the same.

So this means we have so many options on the ice that we can't possibly know the perfect thing to do at every moment.

The natural answer to this problem is to show up to the rink "winging it".

This works for the best athletes who have high natural talent, but the rest of the players are left struggling to compete.

Not because they don't have access to more talent, but because they don't know how to access their talents.

I was lucky to have a dad who studied Darryl Belfry's methods deeply and taught me a fair amount about how to design a game structure and access my talents.

Only now do I realize the wisdom in what he was teaching me.

Rules, Goals, and Instincts

So we talked about the idea of just "winging it" and how it's not an effective strategy for development.

When we play we are guided by the rules of the game and the goals we have.

What I mean is that there are certain rules we understand about the game that give us guidance as to what buttons to press like taking a shot from behind the red line leading to an icing.

There are certain targets we have that also guide our actions - like knowing that the intention is to put the puck in the other team's net and stop the opponent from doing the same.

After a couple of years of hockey, these become deep instincts engrained in our brains.

That's why you basically never see older players forget the rules and just rip the puck into their own net.

What I am getting at here is that when we learn these concepts, they become engrained in our instincts, and they influence how we play.

What Guides Us

Understanding how we fit into the team guides how we make decisions.

For example, a defenseman makes decisions based on the fact that he is a defenseman.

He will rarely try to rush ahead of the play and look for breakaways.

Why is that?

Well because he makes decisions based on his position.

Now a player like Eric Karlsson in the NHL might play a little differently because he has a more offensive role, and plays a more offensive, volume-shooting defensive archetype.

To be even more specific, Karlesson and Cale Makar both have a very similar role and archetypes on their teams, but they play the roles differently.

They have their own unique identities that make them stand out in their unique ways even though they play the same position and have a very similar role on their team.

Breaking It Down

So let's break this down...

To make better decisions on the ice, we need to have an awareness of:

  • POSITION: The position we play on the team (center, winger, defenseman)

  • ROLE: Where do you fit on a team (what line are you on and what's your line job)

  • ARCHETYPE: Your playing style you play (like power forward, or playmaker)

  • IDENTITY: Your own unique skills and style that separate you from anyone else with a similar archetype.

Just like the rules of hockey guide our instincts, understanding each of these allows our subconscious mind to make instinctual decisions with much more clarity.

Identify these for yourself and you will suddenly notice that decision-making is significantly more tension-free.

The reason for this is that the mind releases tension when it feels clarity.

Actions Steps

Take some time to write down:

  • POSITION: The position you play on the team (center, winger, defenseman)

  • ROLE: Where do you fit on a team (what line are you on and what's your line job)

  • ARCHETYPE: Your playing style you play (like power forward, or playmaker)

  • IDENTITY: Your own unique skills and style that separate you from anyone else with a similar archetype.

Gain clarity on who you are on your current team and watch your hockey IQ take off!

there is much more to discuss with hockey IQ so make sure you subscribe to get the all of the future Identity Letters.

See you at the next level.

  • Corson

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Who is Corson Searles?

I am a former player & mental/performance advisor for AAA, junior, college, and pro hockey players. I am obsessed with dissecting atheletic performance potential, lifestyle design, and hockey development.


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