Intrinsic Motivation and SAID

Patrick O’Sullivan wrote a fantastic auto-biographical piece recently, in which he recounts the horrific abuse that he endured throughout his childhood at the hands of his father.  His father beat him quite severely, and would force him to train long hours outside the rink (weight training + running etc.) in order to help his son realize NHL dreams that he was never able to attain himself.

Patrick does a great job of summarizing these painful experiences, and then alludes to two very important principles in sport psychology/physiology.  The first is SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) which I’ve spoken about before – he hints that it isn’t the extra weight training or long runs that make great players, but rather the passing/shooting/stick-handling practice that actually occurs on the ice.

“Having a 12-year-old kid run six miles after practice isn’t going to turn them into Jonathan Toews.  You know when you actually get good at sports? When you’re having fun and being creative. When you’re being a kid. When you don’t even realize you’re getting better, that’s when you’re getting better. If you’re not engaged in what you’re doing, it’s as helpful as taking the trash out. It’s just another chore.”

The other theme alluded to, is that of intrinsic motivation.  In this case, this simply means wanting to play hockey for the sheer enjoyment factor.

“But that’s not what some parents, even normal ones, want to hear. Honestly, that’s not the direction youth hockey is trending. When I was in the NHL, I’d be doing my off-season workouts at the gym with Daniel Carcillo and some other NHL buddies, and we’d look over and see 12-year-old kids doing the same two-hour workout we were doing, with a trainer screaming at them the whole time. Half the time their parents would be there, yelling at them, too.  And it’s absolutely comical. It’s doing nothing.

True story: I played with Drew Doughty his rookie year in Los Angeles. He came into camp and he could barely do one rep on the bench press. He’ll laugh about it now. He was not in shape at all, at least in the way these “Old Time Hockey” blowhards talk about it. Then we’d go out for practice and he’d be the best player on the ice. Doughty was just a pure, natural hockey player with incredible vision and a brain for the game.”