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Editor’s Choice: The Social-Emotional Lens of Blackhawks Development Camp

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Any Chicago Blackhawks coach can tell you that aside from motivation, teaching is the key to getting the most out of players. But each player is different, featuring their own unique talents and challenges, and react to things differently as a human being.

Beyond that, there’s a sweet spot when it comes to learning. How do you reach them? If something doesn’t make sense, how do you re-teach it without losing other players who are already advanced.

But for all the educational input, there’s a human touch that balances the learning with the engagement and understanding of the instruction. In educational circles, it’s called social-emotional learning and it keys in on bringing the whole human being instead of solely the academic side.

There’s varying opinions on what this looks like, and whether it’s effective all the time. But the approach many teachers take when trying to reach their students and instruct with self-awareness was on full display at Blackhawks development camp this week.

Whole Body, Whole Mind Approach

Blackhawks General Manager Kyle Davidson complimented the development staff for finding activities that would foster a team atmosphere and instruct simultaneously.

“I’ll give credit to the development staff on that trying to determine what’s important for them to learn,” Davidson said.  “You think of something like Second City is just kind of a unique idea to help grow the team aspect of what we’re trying to build here. Something like standup comedy or improv doesn’t necessarily seem like it’s applicable to hockey or sport. But when you’re up on stage … and someone’s having a bad night, it’s up to everyone else to pick them up.”

Blackhawks prospect Paul Ludwinski spoke to the Second City experience as something that stood out to him.

“We went to Second City which is the comedy club and we got to learn there. It’s kind of a “yes and” mindset like you’re not just shutting your teammate down and being negative. It’s like ‘yes, I like that idea and…’ add onto that. The more you guys get yes in a team, the more it’s going to roll and you’re going to gel.”

The scrutiny players face now is more intense than ever, be it not only with the media, but also with social media and the expectations their draft spot carries. In a salary cap era, it’s essential that teams remain not only competitive, but are hitting on their higher draft picks.

The Blackhawks were looking to focus on the mental side of things. How can they best prepare their prospects for the inevitable bumps in the road?

There were also the breathing exercises that former Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya led the team in. The physical side saw the boxing classes as well as a Spikeball tournament.

Consistency for the Blackhawks Prospects is Key

It’s clear what Davidson, the coaches, and the development staff are trying to accomplish. Any good teacher will explain that the approach must be interwoven into classrooms consistently. Simple stand alone lessons or lip service won’t achieve what the development camp was about.

The Blackhawks are planting the seeds now for the culture they hope to build.

“It was just more so trying to get a different look and utilize the time better to give them opportunities to learn some things that we wouldn’t have time for,” Davidson said.  “Either in season or if we put them on the ice. Just different skills that are necessary if when they become pro. Different happens we’d like them to learn.

They get so much time on the ice that I don’t necessarily believe that extra four days of ice is gonna change anything one way or another. Just give em a little break from instruction on the ice and take it off ice and teach them some different things that they wouldn’t be exposed to likely at their amateur team and not too much when they turn pro.”

Players certainly appreciated the approach, too. Connor Bedard noted the clinics with kids as something that stood out to him.

“I liked the clinic we did with the kids yesterday,” Bedard said.  “It was a lot of fun. We played a little floor hockey and got to talk to them and see their excitement when we came. It was pretty cool.”

Blackhawks prospect and current Flint Firebird forward Ryan Greene noted what the intent was.

“[It’s] been super enjoyable,” Greene said.  “A lot of off-ice stuff obviously. But it’s been good to spend time and see these guys again [and] learn from all the resources they’re providing us with.”

Development camp will make way for a little break before the hockey season makes its triumphant return. But the lessons learned could pay major dividends down the road.

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