SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
Read/react skills are trained, just like physical skills
By Jack Blatherwick
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist
“Speed of hand, speed of foot, speed of mind; train for each of these…but never forget, the most important is speed of mind.” This advice came from Anatoli Tarasov, who’s philosophy was the cornerstone of Soviet hockey for 40 years, from its first appearance in international competition in the early 1950’s.
Legendary coach Anatoli Tarasov. The players became chess pieces
Imagine winning the World Championship each year for four decades! And the Olympics each fourth year, both with only a handful of exceptions — two of those coming in the Olympics of 1960 and 1980 at the hands of amateurs from the United States.
Herb Brooks knew how well the Soviet training philosophy worked, because he played on 10 national and Olympic teams. The Soviets practiced so fast — with so many instantaneous read/react decisions — that this became their comfort zone. Brooks knew that opponents who were psyched up for the effort of their lives would be performing all their skills and making decisions at a pace that was not ingrained from thousands of hours of practice.
“It was not easy (to practice this way),” Tarasov wrote. “The players did not like (the discomfort of practicing like this). But we told the players, ‘We do not care. If you want to beat the best opponents, this is how we must train.’”
I will use the term OVERSPEED TRAINING for practicing all skills and decision-making at a pace that is faster than comfortable. After several months of this — combined with rigorous dryland training — if you can maintain a high level of execution for a two-hour practice, you are in the same shape as the Soviets.
All other definitions of endurance conditioning fail. Aerobic training is too slow. Whether this is cardio-conditioning on a bike, or running, or skating — it can NOT develop habits of quickness. On the other hand, tough, anaerobic interval training fails, because it results in poor execution of skills, including skating skill.
Coach Herb Brooks trained using Tasarov’s system
If, like the Soviet teams, the goal is to maintain for an entire game — the fastest possible execution of offensive and defensive skills; the quickest, most accurate read/react decisions; and the highest level of mental toughness and creativity — the only conditioning that prepares a team for this is OVERSPEED TRAINING on-ice.
This is why Brooks adopted Tarasov’s philosophy for the six-month preparation season prior to the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Movies have emphasized the torturous “Herbies,” the anaerobic stops-and-starts added for disciplinary reasons (meaning the coach was angry). This was an easy way for Hollywood to show in a short clip just how tough the coach was in practice. However, the major conditioning effect was from the tempo of difficult, but skillful practices — most of which lasted longer, and were much tougher than games.
Recent studies by neuroscientists have given us some idea why this works. First, the improvement of skills is a function of precise practice — repeating as perfectly as possible the exact movement and SPEED of movement that is desired in competition. We know that the nerve cells (neurons) carrying information from the Central Nervous System to the muscles communicate the messages to other neurons and to muscle cells at junctions called synapses.
Much of the learning process in skill development results from: (a) the timing of messages arriving at these synapses; and (b) the proliferation of synaptic “connections.” The timing of electrical signals is enhanced by myelin insulation surrounding the long limbs (axons) of neurons. It is possible to actually see the increased myelin with a special “microscope,” whether the skills are those of a world-class violinist, gymnast or hockey player.
Capablanca giving a simul in 1911.
Neuroscientists have also discovered much about the learning that allows world champion chess players to make quick decisions with as many variables as a crowded chess board. A hundred years ago, a chess master (Jose Capablanca from Cuba) competed with 28 others simultaneously. He had only 2-3 seconds to make a decision at each board; the opponents had unlimited time. He made his decision and walked to the next board, made a decision within a couple seconds and moved again. He won all 28 matches!
His feat inspired the study of chess decision-making processes, and scientists have concluded that the greatest players (a) make correct decisions quickly, and (b) focus on the most important variables, not the entire maze of the chess board. More importantly, studies have concluded: this skill results from REPETITION, not innate ability. Practice.
Obviously, a hockey player makes decisions more quickly than two seconds, but the conclusions are the same. For players like Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby, this read/react skill is acquired through years of practice — not from some genetic gift.
For the 1980 Olympic team to compete with the Soviets, they had to maintain physical and mental skills at high quality and high tempo for an entire game. Brooks’ answer, stolen from his opponents, is now being verified by scientific studies: EFFECTIVE ENDURANCE is gained from high quality repetition… not from traditional low-quality, brain-dead, slow conditioning drills that have slowed the progress of team sports.
When Anatoli Tarasov became a coach, he changed Russian hockey forever. He masterminded creating his own version of hockey – a game of speed, endurance and winning. He was the master of the team and his players were like chess pieces. When the USSR entered its first team into the World Championship in 1954, they won. Likewise, the Soviet team finished first at the 1956 Olympics. Once Tarasov took over the national team’s reigns, the “CCCP” team won gold at the World Championships in Stockholm in 1963. That was just the beginning of nine consecutive World Championship victories, through to 1971. During that timespan, the Soviet Union also won eight European Championships and three consecutive Olympic gold medals (1964, 1968, 1972). The Soviet hockey program was recognized as the premier in the world and earned the nickname “The Big Red Machine.” Tarasov also coached the Central Sports Club of the Army (CSKA), to seventeen league championships from 1947 to 1974. Tarasov’s colleague – Arkady Chernyshev also played an influential role in the development of Soviet hockey.http://russkiyhockey.wordpress.com/2009/10/
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS