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Let's Teach Hockey Like It's a Video Game

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 04/05/23, 9:15AM EDT


Reframing how we view the path to success

Photo Credit: Julie Whelan Photography

For hockey-obsessed players, chances are when they aren’t at the rink or shooting pucks at home they are working on their skills in the latest NHL 23 video game.

As our kids hobbies become more digital, chances are their time playing video games has increased as well. While it may seem like a waste of time, there are lessons to take from the video game world and apply it to how we teach in minor hockey.

It’s about changing the mindset of what we view as success and the road it takes to get there. 

The work that goes behind improving those skills is where we need to reframe what it means to keep improving. And for that we circle back to how kids approach a video game.

No one likes to fail, but when it comes to video games kids spend most of their time failing a mission or challenge. Yet, they still can’t wait to pick up the controller and try again. Why is it that they remain so optimistic after ‘losing’ on so many occasions?

An experiment was run by a computer programmer with 50,000 participants and two versions of a game. In one, if the participant failed, they got the message “That didn’t work. Please try again.” The other half would receive the note of “That didn’t work. You lost 5 points. You now have 195 points. Please try again.”

The results? Those who lost points for failed attempts had a success rate of 52%. Those who didn’t lose any points had a success rate of 68% and had 2.5x more attempts to solve the program.

When we don’t penalize mistakes, kids are more likely to keep trying. With more chances, they will eventually find success. That’s why coaches shouldn’t punish players for making mistakes, instead reframing those errors in a positive way as learning opportunities and encouraging the creativity on the ice. 

In video games, the end goal is to complete the mission no matter how many tries it takes. Learning new approaches, which pathways to take and how to counter an opponent’s attack are all part of the process. If a player has failed to complete the mission, they know where they went wrong and can use this information to try something different on their next turn. If they made a left turn, maybe their next opportunity they will try to go right instead, learning from their previous experiences.

Video games are designed to be a long term goal. If it was one level where the majority of players won in ten minutes, kids would not see the challenge and get bored easily. Let’s change the way we think about teaching our players and what we view as the path to success.

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