11 December 2011

Quick notes on the hockey slap shot

I got most of the following information from Total Female Hockey.

The further back you place the puck, the lower the shot. Put the puck near your front foot for a high shot. Put the puck near your back foot for a low hot.

Place the puck as close to your body as you can without impeding arm movement. Don't make the mistake of putting the puck too far away from your body.

Use proper grip. Slap shot grip is different than stickhandling grip. Turn your wrists away from you, such that the blade closes a little. The bottom hand should rotate so that your elbow goes from slightly bent to being locked straight. Similarly, the top hand should rotate so that your elbow is locked straight.

Keep your bottom arm straight and locked down

Get low and stay low through the shot and follow through. Lead with the bottom hand.

You must turn the blade over and closed during the follow-through to have power and accuracy in your shot.

I've heard recommendations that you should hit the ice 6-10" behind the puck, rather than the common refrain of 1-2". Supposedly the pros use the 6-10" distance whereas beginners start with 1-2". The reason for using a longer distance is that it gives the stick more time to flex and makes your shot more powerful.

There are lots more slapshot tips at Wild About Hockey. When I start to really practice my slapshot, I'll write up something more complete.

09 December 2011

Hockey wrist shot

My wrist shot has always sucked. Like everything else in hockey, you need incredible technique to do it well. I thought I'd write down the important ideas behind the wrist shot, to remind myself.

Main ideas

The wrist shot consists of two major motions:
  1. Sweeping the puck forward while transferring your body weight.
  2. Pushing and pulling the stick hard and fast and snapping your wrists towards the end of the push-pull.
You need to be able to do all the different motions well, on their own. Then you need to put everything together and time everything properly. Timing is crucial. I suggest breaking down the wrist shot into small motions and making sure you can do each separate motion before you try the entire wrist shot.

Going on to more specifics...

Stick grip

You want to grip the stick properly to make your wrist shot as easy and efficient as possible. The top hand should be in either one of two grips.
  1. Hold the end so that knob is inside the palm of the hand with the thumb wrapped around the stick and next two fingers gripping the end and with the pinky closed into the palm and resting on top of the butt end. With this grip, the two fingers after my thumb are behind the butt end and the fourth finger is resting on the side of the butt end.
  2. If you have a weak forearm/grip, hold the end with the thumb wrapped around the stick and the next three fingers
For more details and photos, see the middle of this webpage by Madknuk Enterprises. No one ever told me this -- I've been holding my stick wrong for years.

As for the bottom hand, place it on the stick so that you arms are about shoulder width apart.

Weight transfer

New note: Dip the leading shoulder before skating into the shot. (from Jarick)

You start with your weight on your back foot, slide the front foot forward, and twist your torso. This provides a lot of the power behind your shot.

You want to time your motions so that you smoothly transition from transferring your weight forward to twisting your torso. Think of your body as a spring.

To exaggerate the weight transfer, you can step forward with your foot, actually lifting your foot off the ice.

I usually don't have too much trouble with the weight transfer action, because it's a natural instinct from playing other sports.

Cupping the puck and sweeping motion

The proper starting position is to cup the puck with your blade closed near your back foot. Then sweep the puck forward, keeping the puck on the heel of your blade. The sweeping motion should be straight and smooth. As you sweep the puck forward, put down with your bottom hand to put some pressure on the blade so it flexes, but not too much. You just want to use enough force to flex the stick, while the majority of your weight transfer focuses on moving the puck forward.

Make sure the puck isn't too far away from your body. I find it easier to shoot wrist shots with a short stick because the puck starts closer to my body. However, you don't want the puck so close that torso gets in the way of your elbows.

I have a lot of trouble with my wrist shots because I always open the blade of my stick too early. The blade starts closed, then when the puck gets near your front foot, you quickly open up the blade, and snap your wrists to close the blade. If you do this right, the puck should stay at the heel of your blade throughout the entire sweeping motion. You don't open up the blade until near the very end.

All the work of putting your weight behind the puck and sweeping the puck through does no good if the puck falls off your blade. This happens to a lot of beginners. They can't lift the puck, their shot is weak, and the reason is that the puck is falling off the blade because either 1) they're opening up the blade too soon and/or 2) the puck isn't staying on the heel of the blade during the sweep.

Kevin Muller mentions the importance of keeping the puck on your heel in this instructional video.

You can do the following exercise on or off the ice. Without the puck, practice transferring your body weight and sweeping the puck. Work on this motion until it becomes natural. A good way to remind yourself about weight transfer is to start with all your weight balanced on your back foot and your front foot in the air, then step forward with your front foot. Obviously you wouldn't do this in a game, but it reinforces the idea behind the weight transfer.

Push-pull motion

When the puck gets near your front foot, open up the blade and then push-pull the stick. You push with your bottom hand and pull with your top hand. You want to do this as fast and hard as possible. Again, do this as fast and hard as possible. The proper technique is wonderfully explained in this Total Female Hockey video.

The speed of the push-pull determines the timing of when you start the motion, i.e. where the puck is in relation to your feet when you start the push-pull. Also, you should be twisting your torso while you do the push-pull.

As Coach Kim explains in the above Total Female Hockey video, you can practice the push-pull motion off the ice without a puck.

Wrist snap and follow-through

As you push-pull the stick, when the puck gets to the end of your blade, you want to snap your wrists really fast and hard so that the blade opens, then flips over and closes. Point the stick blade towards the target and follow-through. The stick should point straight out in front of your body if you follow-through properly.

If you get the push-pull, open-close motion of the blade, wrist snap, and follow-through sequence right, the puck should spin off your blade and not wobble in the flight.

When you are on the ice with pucks, you can practice the push-pull and snap motion separately from the weight transfer/sweeping motion. Put the puck near the front foot and just do the push-pull and snap without any weight transfer or snapping motion. Kevin Muller explains this exercise in the same video from previous section. If you do this exercise, you'll realize how much velocity you get from just the push-pull and wrist snap alone.

  1. Make sure you are holding the stick properly. Hands shoulder width apart with the top hand holding the stick with the pinky off the end. Start with the puck close to your body.
  2. Weight transfer from back foot to front foot. Slide the front foot forward
  3. Sweep the puck forward in a smooth straight line, while pushing down with the bottom hand to flex the stick.
  4. Make sure the blade stays closed during the sweep.
  5. As the puck gets near your front foot, twist the torso and push-pull the stick really hard and fast.
  6. As the puck leaves the end of the blade, snap your wrists hard and follow-through.
  7. Concentrate on power, spin, accuracy, and quick release.
Final notes

If you practice off-ice, make sure you wear your gloves while you're shooting. You need to get used to how the stick feels with your gloves on.

Practice shooting facing perpendicular to the target and also facing the target. The position where you face the goalie is called the triple threat position because you can either pass, shoot, or make a move.  When you get good at stationary wrist shots, start practicing wrist shots while skating forward.

If you master the wrist shot, try learning the hybrid wrist shot/snap shot. This is what the pros use because it has a quicker release. NHL player Mike Cammileri demonstrates the more modern version of the wrist shot in this video. To see a more in-depth instruction video, check out HowToHockey's explanation of the traditional and modern wrist shot. The modern wrist shot focuses on quick release and relies mainly on the forearms and flex of the stick for power. There is very little weight transfer and the puck starts pretty close to the front foot, compared to the traditional wrist shot.

Many thanks to Wild About Hockey and its great article on improving wrist shots. I incorporated some of the tips from that article into my post here.

08 December 2011

Link of the day: Khan Academy goes beyond just video

As Khan Academy (see my earlier post) gains fame and recognition, the backlash of criticism is starting. Some commenters on the recent New York Times feature "Online Learning, Personalized" think Khan Academy is overrated and nothing special.

In this article on Inside Higher Education, Salman Khan explains that in fact,
“I think too much conversation about Khan Academy is about cute little videos," Khan said in an interview last week. “Most of our resources, almost two-thirds of [the staff], are engineers working on the exercises and analytics platform. That, I think, is what we’re most excited about.”
It's true that people visit Khan Academy for its online video tutorials of math and science subjects, but behind the scenes, Khan's team is collecting statistics on 1.4 million registered users. They are using that data to understand how well the user is learning, for example, to predict whether the user will be able to solve a similar problem weeks later. One of Khan's engineers notes that "the work he does for Khan Academy is similar to the statistical modeling he did in finance."

They are also experimenting with incorporating memory research into their software. Websites like SuperMemo have touted the power of reviewing material at specific time intervals to deepen your memory of the knowledge.

What impressed me most is that Khan's team is working to differentiate between "pattern matching" and true understanding. Pattern matching is a problem solving method in which the person recognizes a class of problem and then uses a standard method to solve it. As Eric Mazur remarked in his talk on teaching introductory physics, his student would look at an exam question, think "oh, this is a Kirchoff's law problem" and then use the textbook method to solve it. Pattern matching is a useful method, but rather low-level, "a sort of useful imitation that allows toddlers to learn how to use language without first learning how grammar works." Unfortunately, in the real world, we can't easily identify problems in convenient categories like "Kirchoff's law." Even in the confined reality of physics class, Mazur found that his students would become frustrated when they came across a problem they couldn't classify. They would blindly apply atextbookrecipe and complain when it didn't work. Moreover, innovation and creativity requires global, comprehensive mastery of concepts, what I would loosely call "trueunderstanding." One of Khan's engineers states
“A big part of real-life problem-solving,” Kohlmeier says, “is recognizing what kind of problem you’re dealing with.”
Salman Khan proposes a radical idea: develop an independent agency to administer an exam that will test college students' competencies and mastery of concepts. The problem is that we have a mass of college graduates with degrees and GPAs, but there is no easy way to differentiate between them -- to know if they have developed the skills that employers want. That's why a lot of employers simply hire Ivy League graduates, because the colleges have already done the hard work of filtering already.

Khan is not impressed with the liberal arts education, an opinion that will no doubt spark controversy.
“If you can go deep in many things, awesome,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “That’s wonderful. But the reality is, right now, you’re forcing students to [obtain], and employers to hire students with, kind of a broad and very shallow experience base -- an expensive broad experience base. And it’s not clear that’s doing anyone any good.”

“Higher order” skills in critical thinking and creativity are useful only to the extent that graduates wind up in a position to apply them, Khan said. In the malaise of post-college unemployment, a graduate’s aptitude for analyzing themes in literature or conducting reliable research will languish. “If you don’t have that starting point of [graduates] being engaged and productive in society in some way, then the rest is just a waste of time,” said Khan.

Distribution requirements, the four-year model, and the buffet approach to curriculum all contribute to the “arbitrariness” that muddies the signaling function of college degrees and “have no relation to what makes you a more productive citizen or better for society or a more creative person,” Khan said.

“If you decouple [learning and credentialing], the arbitrariness is gone,” he added, and “it federates the options to adjust to what people’s needs are.”
I don't think we should completely get rid of the liberal arts education, but I agree that it's definitely not for everyone and that perhaps we should move to the German model where some students go to university and others attend vocational schools.

05 December 2011

Thought of the day: Character is universal, plot is not

I realized today why the great actors do character driven stories.  It's because

Character is universal, plot is not.

All creative people strive to create something lasting that says something universal about the human condition or nature.  In the end, no one cares about tedious plot details.  Enough with the constant exposition and twists.  It's not that interesting.  Mysteries are so arbitrary; the audience is at the mercy of the writer.  That's why I get sick of TV shows like Lost, 24, and (the later seasons of) Alias.

OK, you need some plot, but just enough to make the story and characters work.

04 December 2011

Why I love Homeland

I've been watching Homeland, a new TV show on the cable channel Showtime. I love it -- it's challenging, surprising, expertly written, and beautifully acted. I like all kinds of stories, but my favorite by far is the heavy-hitting, intense, raw, gritty drama. I haven't been this excited about a show since Battlestar Galactica.

Homeland is an espionage drama and a psychological thriller. The main character and protagonist is CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an incredibly intelligent, driven, compulsive woman who is kind of crazy. She's been diagnosed with a "mood disorder." She's devoted her life to fighting terrorism and she becomes obsessed with the idea that an American POW, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), is a terrorist. Her closest ally is her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), who cares deeply about her and is constantly covering for her. When Brody is rescued from the Middle East, she's the only one who thinks he's been turned and she tries to (illegally) gather evidence to prove it.

I've never seen a show where the main characters are so unpredictable. Damn, it's exciting. Brody and Carrie are both complete wildcards. Brody is going crazy following eight years of captivity and trying to adjust to civilian life. Is he really a terrorist? Carrie is obsessed and isolated (by choice). She's a maverick spy who enjoys flirting with danger. As a viewer, my jaw is hanging open half the time and I'm thinking "what the... ?"

I've enjoyed every single character, even the minor ones. The show has the patience to spend time letting us get to know the characters as opposed to plot, plot, plot (the kind of writing I hate). Come on TV writers, character is universal, plot is not. I'm glad Homeland appreciate this. I savor the dialogue. The CIA people talk in a smart and crisp mannerbenefitingtheir education and occupation; Brody's family sound less polished as expected (they are middle class), but authentic. I like the scenes without dialogue even better. Brody cowering in a corner, Carrie watching him on video surveillance with headphones on, Carrie driving to work alone, Saul staying late at the office and digging through the refrigerator. All of it is fascinating in the context of this show. We really need less talking on TV.

The title Homeland is an interesting one. On the surface, it sounds like a reference to the Department of Homeland Security, even though technically the CIA is part of the State Department. Another way to interpret is that all the main characters are terribly isolated and lonely, unable to connect with other human beings -- they are never "at home" with themselves. There are so many scenes where people are alone, particularly Brody and Carrie.

The first seven episodes were just dynamite and absolutely riveting. Episodes 8 and 9 were good, but not stellar. Well, I guess the writers can't keep hitting home runs. Warning: spoilers ahead. If you haven't seen the show, don't read the rest of this post. Really, don't read further. You're losing out on all the fun.


There are so many great moments that it would take forever to list them all.
  • The CIA tech Virgil confronts Carrie with evidence of her mental condition.
  • Carrie (lamely) trying to seduce Saul to avoid ending her career with the CIA.
  • Carrie melting down in the closet.
  • Carrie starting to mirror Brody: she wakes up when he wakes up from a nightmare, she brushes her teeth while lying on the coach watching Brody lie on the coach watching TV
  • Brody casually leaving the house and walking in a mall after punching out a reporter.
  • Brody opening the garage door a crack and conducting Muslim prayer.
  • Saul unleashing his rage on Carrie because she lied to him about the illegalsurveillanceand then tried to seduce him after he found out.
  • Virgil cracking witty remarks about the surveillance footage.
  • Carrie flirting with her boss, David. Yeah, she's not manic and depressed all the time!
  • Carrie gleefully predicting what order Brody puts his uniform on.
  • Carrie, Virgil, and Virgil's brother taking down the surveillance while the Brody family is at church singing a hymn. Carrie looks awed at finally being able to step into the house and then of course, she starts frantically looking through all of Brody's belongings.
  • Carrie and Brody meeting for the first time.
  • Carrie chewing out Saul and calling him a pussy, then Saul throwing her out of his house.
  • Carrie brashly telling Saul that they're going to catch Brody lying on the polygraph and that she'll bet "everything" she's got -- even her jazz CD signed by Thelonius himself.
  • Carrie tearfully escaping to her sister's house and getting into bed with her nieces.
  • Carrie and Brody having wild parking lot sex.
  • Carrie antagonizing white supremacists in a bar.
  • Carrie and Brody having emotionally raw, romantic sex.
  • Confrontation between Carrie and Brody at the cabin.
When I watched the pilot, I was blown away by the character Carrie Mathison and Claire Danes's performance. Wearing an engagement ring to scare off guys interested in relationships? Check. Giving herself a whore bath? Check. Trying to seduce her mentor? Check. Melting down in the closet? Check. After I saw the pilot, I felt like I had to know more about this character. How does she manage to live like this and why?

I'm riveted by Carrie and Danes's portrayal of her. Carrie Mathison is the finest female TV character I've seen. So complicated, compelling, and yet likable. If you know of a better character, I want to see it. I feel deeply connected to this character. She's so smart and yet so damaged. I have so many conflicting emotions about her. I love how brash and daring Carrie is. But it's not the kind of brashness where someone shows off. She just knows that she's really smart. It's the kind of charismatic confidence that flirts on the edge of arrogance. Women are socially pressured to be compliant; Carrie's unapologetic attitude is refreshing. She loves her job because of the job itself and not because a family member tragically died in 9/11. (I hate it when writers soften up a strong female character by coming upwithsomething like "oh, she became a police officer because her mom was murdered." As if it's threatening for a strong female to simply love her job.) I feel really bad for her, for mental condition, that she has to hide it from her colleagues at work. But I also recognize that being manic (bipolar?) is just part of who she is. It's not like there is a definitive point where the mental illness begins and Carrie the person ends. I wonder why she insists on isolating herself. She stays away from her family, people who clearly love her and worry about her illness. Why is she so terrified of a loving relationship? I'm kind of mad at Saul for constantly covering for her. He keeps letting her get away with behavior that is bad for her and bad for her career. I crack up when Carrie throws her fits. Sometimes she really acts like a kid, especially in Saul's presence.

I think I know why I feel this deep personal connection. I have a close family member who has similar manic fits. I've been that smart, brash girl. I've had problems, and I isolated myself for it. I think I'm growing up and losing my taste for ingénue characters like Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow. Carrie Mathison is an adult and a real woman who is mature in some areas and growing in other areas. I don't see many complex portrayals of younger women on film and television. (The keyword here is "younger", not a green kid but not a jaded middle-aged woman.) That's exciting to watch.

Homeland has been renewed for a second season, so I'm sure I'll get to see some of my questions addressed. I'll keep watching, if nothing else, to see what Carrie is up to and to watch Claire Danes perform. I'm hoping the writers can keep up their outstanding work. Because Homeland is a show that inspires me. It has this ineffable quality about it that makes me feel better for having watched it. I'm entertained, challenged, moved, and educated. But even if the rest of the series disappoints me, I'll still have my memory of those first seven amazing episodes.