The Hockey Error

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A lot, or at least a few, sports count assists among their statistics.  That is, the pass that leads to a score.  In volleyball, at least in America, a set that leads to a spike point is an assist. In basketball, a pass that leads to a basket is an assist.  But in hockey, not only the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist, but also the pass that leads to the pass that leads to a goal counts as an assist.  In some circles (i.e. Bill Simmons), that kind of assist is referred to a ‘hockey assist’.

In volleyball there are a lot of structural / organisational / communication errors where the fault seems to be obvious.

  • A tip falls in front of a defender.  The fault is obviously that the defender to not commit to defending the ball.  The obvious solution is to berate them for lack of effort and possibly some drill to encourage the player to change their habit.
  • A middle blocker has a chance to set a high ball but commits a ball handling error.  The obvious solution is to berate them for their lack of technical skill and possibly some drill to improve that technical ability.

You get the idea.  The wrong player receives the ball.  The wrong player sets the ball.  A player touches the net.  All simple errors with obvious solutions.

But what if things aren’t so simple.  What if there is such a thing as a ‘hockey error’.  I have written before that what looks like a lack of effort is most often actually a lack of readiness. In that example, the lack of effort is the error and the lack of readiness is the hockey error.  In the middle blocker setting example, the hockey error is probably not turning fast enough after landing from the block.  Many errors that are attributed to lack of calling, have as their hockey error a player moving towards the ball and then stopping.  Being in the wrong position is the hockey error in many different situations.

As a coach, focussing on the error can have some improvement on performance.  But focussing on the hockey error can have a profound effect on understanding of the game.

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  1. Perhaps a pedantic question, but in the provided examples wouldn’t the action leading to the fault be akin to a first assist, not a second? For example, you talk about the middle not getting turned quickly enough leading to the double contact on the set attempt. If the bad set is the “goal” in this analogy, then the failure to make the quick turn would be the assist. Yes?

    That said, extending the metaphor, there are definitely cases (perhaps many) where you would need to look as far back as the 2nd assist. Example, player fails to make a dig because the block was poorly positioned because the blocker got a bad read.

    Oh, and hockey isn’t the only sport in the US to give 2nd assists. They do it in MLS as well.


    1. Hockey assist is the pass that leads to the assist.
      ‘Hockey error’ = error that leads to the error
      MB double is the error. Not turning fast enough is the error that leads to the error.
      There is no equivalent to the goal in the analogy. It isn’t important. The important point is the what leads to the error.


  2. Great concept ! I am reminded of when an easy free ball lets opponent run In System for a kill. Yes they executed the attack and ‘earned’ the point. But we handed it to them with an error on a previous touch that just didn’t end the rally…right away! I don’t know if it is a practical stat but great image for understanding consequences in the flow of play.


    1. Thanks.
      But for the record, I am not proposing a statistic. It is just about a way of thinking about the game.


  3. I use the terms “botch” and “son of a botch.” We give the opponent an easy free ball instead of hitting the ball and the opponent runs their offense and gets a kill. The “botch” is we couldn’t dig their attack but the “son of a botch” is the fact that we gave them an easy ball. Or we make a hitting error, “the botch.” The “son of a botch” is the poor decision we made in evaluating the set and our choice of options.


  4. That is the fundamental difference I see between novice coaches and seasoned coaches. Novice coaches (generally) look only at the last touch and are quick to place blame on the poor kid who couldn’t save that ball when in fact the chain of errors started happening much, much earlier and it’s unreasonable to expect the final player in the ‘chain of disaster’ to fix everyone’s problems with one final miraculous hit. When I’m working with a new coach, I often (always) have to point this out to them. They need to see all the “son of a botch’s” to know where to start fixing a problem.

    My Libero son would LOVE two assists to be awarded on every kill. Perhaps I will start keeping that stat to reward the unsung heroes. Maybe I’ll even double the ‘weight’ of that stat to show the team how important it is.

    And I’m stealing the ‘son of a botch’ term. That’s great!


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