Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Steve Mason and Spring Football

Ian Clark lecturing during 2011-12 training camp
You might ask yourself, 'what in 'tarnation does Steve Mason have to do with Spring Football?'  And I would say, 'the answer is obvious, Ian Clark'.  At which point the discerning reader might discreetly start punching in '911' to call the guys to bring the coat with the long sleeves.  And, as I write this, I gird myself for the firestorm of criticism.  But, I am one of those glass half full guys, admittedly.  But please keep in mind as a season ticket holder, I've seen A LOT of Steve Mason performances, in person.  I've shouted at a few of 'em on TV too.  I get it.  It would be best to have the goal tending situation be locked up solid.  The theory that Mason has been given plenty of rope is sound.  But there's 30 teams that need solid goal tending and only about 15 legit starting goal tenders, according to Vancouver's coach.  And there's that contract!  Eeesh!  What does Mason make this year, $3 million??  So we have to face up to the fact that it's entirely possible he will be here all year.  And that he is only 23 years old.  When did Tim Thomas bloom into a Vezina trophy winner?   And to throw in a rhetorical question, would you consider Tim Thomas to be a draft bust?  But I digress.

I have to get back into the importance of Spring Football.

You see, there is a well known phenomenon in the sports world.  It turns out that if an athlete learns a new technique, its often far from automatic.  Often, the athlete has to think about it, to remind themselves to use this technique.  Once the season is over and there is a down time, when the athlete comes back the next year, if taught the technique again, it will become automatic.  This is the whole theory behind kinesthetic cues.  The body takes over from the mind after that pattern of learning, time off, re-learning.

This is precisely why college football teams have spring practice.  The techniques learned in the spring will often become automatic in the fall.  The introduction of spring practices gives you 4 more learning cycles in the football player's college career (thereabouts).  This moves the player along faster than they would if football was only practiced in the fall.

So, what does this have to do with Steve Mason?  Well, this is Ian Clark's second summer as the goal tending coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  What this means, is that many of the things that Clark taught Mason last year, will become automatic for him this year.  In other words, the stuff he had to think about last year will be automatic this year.  Since hockey at the NHL level does not typically provide more than split seconds for pondering your approach, this will be very helpful to the young goal tender.  As a result, there is a foundation for the thought that he might improve this year, after several years of woeful results and a totally unsettled goal tender coaching situation.

So let's look at a hypothetical situation of how this might work.

Mason: But Ian, my butt looks better in the tight shorts!
Clark:  But you can't move Steve.  You need to wear the loose shorts I picked out for you.
Mason:  <thinks hard> OK, I guess that makes sense.

Now this year, Mason will only need Clark to remind him once to wear the loose shorts, and that's what he'll reach for automatically for the rest of the year.

This will also work well for important goal tending things, like how deep to play, how to play the puck behind the net, etc.  These are things that require split second thought, and now that Clark is in his second year, there is a certain body of evidence that Mason ought to be expected to improve his performance.

Theoretically anyway.



  1. Great article, I am almost certain that someone will unlock the potential in Mason again and perhaps with the improvement at the end of the last season and our awesome D-corp, this could be the year. In purely paper terms, I would like a Bob and Steve duo. But it seems like additional issues with Mason are that he's alienated the team, the fan base, and initially became cocky and now lacks confidence. What's your opinion on whether the off-the-ice stuff should influence whether he returns?

    1. I think the high contract has more of an influence. I think the points you raise are good, but if Mason's attitude is what's driving this team in 2012-13 then we are gonna be getting a high draft pick again. One would hope that Johnson and Wiz have enough of an impact that Mason's attitude issues, if he has any, would become relatively unimportant.

  2. Not to go all "motor learning nerd" on you here, and I understand this is probably supposed to be read as a grand oversimplification of that process, but you've oversimplified the concepts here to the point of inaccuracy. These types of things do not simply become "automatic" and certainly not in the "learn, time off, re-learn (refresh?)" pattern you have described here. There is so much more required from Mason (DESIRE to improve, work ethic (which has been questioned in the past), mental resiliency, etc) than is implied in this post. Will Mason be better than he has been in years past? Reasonable to expect, and he certainly couldn't be much worse. Will Mason make an enormous jump this coming season? Doubtful.

    1. Well, I think you should feel totally free to go 'motor learning nerd' all over me. I'm always interested in learning more. And it is an oversimplification, true. Clark can't sit down and give Mason a hundred different things to learn and expect all of those to pick up. Mason already has the tools to be a good goalie. All the things you mention, quite accurately, are barriers he has to overcome. But Mason just has to return to what he has shown he can do when his head wasn't getting in the way. So the magnitude of the jump wouldn't have to be that big for it to be a big improvement in results. But, as you say, is it 'reasonable to expect'. Probably not.

    2. Gallos,
      Thanks for the reply. One thing that doesn't even really have anything to do with Mason per se is simply the effect that the theoretically improved defensive performance in front of him will have on his psyche. Maybe he'll be back just because he doesn't mind***k himself into thinking that every single puck is his sole responsibility and can relax a little.

  3. Hopefully, but we'll believe it when we see it. But your point about muscle memory matters. Hopefully Mase has been working really hard this summer. Hopefully.


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