Move tryouts to April

This past Sunday felt like the first day of the off-season .  The short Manitoba season of ‘non-winter’ appears to finally be upon us and our three boys, aged 12, 8 and 4 were out playing golf, baseball, and soccer respectively – outside, in the sun.

Full caveat – this happened after a morning of hockey camps.  Although hockey is starting to slow down, the kids never really seem to be off the ice for long!   As I was roaming around the rink that morning, I happened to see an article from Hockey Manitoba promoting other sports:

Good article, but as an economist, I’m skeptical that this promotion will have a noticeable effect.  Economists study how people respond to incentives – simply telling parents that other sports are a good idea might not be enough.

We wrote a much larger blog about this a few years ago (here) but given the recent push for summer sports, we thought it was worth repeating.  The older post is wordy so, in short, multi-sport development provides long-term benefits but it is probably that there are short-term benefits to playing hockey in the summer.  The kids who have been on the ice all summer are likely to have a short burst of improvement that will serve them well in the September tryouts, while those who spent the summer playing soccer or baseball may still be getting the kinks out – especially if they had a growing spurt in the summer.

It’s all about incentives.  If Hockey Manitoba is serious about promoting multi-sport development and promoting the long-term development of athletes over the short-term development of kids who can do well at tryouts, the organization should move hockey try-outs from September to March or April.   Finishing the tryouts at the end of the season would remove that fear of ‘falling behind’ and not being ready for tryouts, making other sports more attractive to the players (and their hockey parents).



In Praise of 3-on-3

I spent Saturday night at The Rink watching my two sons play 3-on-3 hockey.  We no longer register them for the traditional spring teams, but the boys aren’t quite ready to stop playing when the season winds down in March.  There’s also a long gap between the end of the regular season and the baseball/soccer season.  So they play 3-on-3, and love it.  We often hear people bemoaning the loss of unorganized pond hockey – that’s where kids can be creative and try new moves, where they can just play the game.   That’s what I like about 3-on-3.   There are some 3-on-3 leagues but I like the system at The Rink where the kids are just put on teams when they get there.  They play with a different group each week so the competitiveness of the league isn’t there, and they have to learn to play with new boys and girls each week.  All the benefits of pond hockey without the frostbite!


What Does No Jets Playoffs Mean for Winnipeg?

Last year was an exciting one with the Jets making the playoffs for the first time since their return to Winnipeg and we wrote a fun piece back then about what making the playoffs might mean for Winnipeggers. Check it out here .

This year the Jets crashed and burned, and the only race they were in was the one for a high draft pick (and hopefully Auston Matthews). So with no playoffs for the Jets, what does this mean for Winnipeg’s economy? The answer is not much!

Now don’t get me wrong, the Jets are an important part of the fabric of Winnipeg and mean a lot to Winnipeggers. It provides a common bond for a lot of people from varied backgrounds and is a source of pride for the city. They are also one of the more popular entertainment options that certainly add a lustre to the city of Winnipeg. But we can’t forget that at the end of the day they are just that, an entertainment option. There are countless other entertainment options to spend money on in Winnipeg.

But what about the lost playoffs games? What about all the money that would be spent on tickets, and parking, and beer, and restaurants? Won’t that harm the economy? Here’s what I tell my sports economics students at the University of Manitoba. Professional sports don’t often have a large impact on the local economy, and to have a positive effect that team is going to have to either generate new spending by locals (that wouldn’t have otherwise spent that money locally) or bring in people from outside the region to spend money who wouldn’t have otherwise come to the city. The Winnipeg Jets have a large season ticket holder base and while I don’t know the exact breakdown, my guess is these are largely Winnipeggers. So you aren’t getting tonnes of people coming from outside the region to go these games (if anyone knows otherwise please let me know). So most of the spending is probably taking place by locals. And while it’s true that without playoff games these people won’t be spending money on Jets games as they would have, this money will likely still get spent but on something else locally instead.

So while you may hear grumbling from the bars and restaurants near the MTS Centre about how no Jets playoff games has hurt their business (and the media love to run stories like that), other restaurants, bars, movie theatres, shops, etc., throughout the city will likely see more a little money coming their way as locals continue to spend their entertainment dollars!

Back at it!!

So time flies! While we have continued to run the Hockey Night in Headingley Twitter account @HNIHblog, it’s been a year since we last posted on this blog. This has been a crazy year for Janice and I with a number of new courses, teaching overload, and continued politics within the economics department that we work all sapping our mental (and blogging) energy. With the academic year winding down, and Janice and I moving the economics department down our list of priorities, we are now ready for more research and more blogging!!

While some may ask why bother, the NHL season is over and there are just playoffs left, those of you that love hockey know that hockey never stops. Playoffs will run till June, followed by the NHL draft at the end of June, then big free agent signings starting up in July, the new World Cup of Hockey being held in September, and then what do you know…a new NHL season!!! And of course hockey parents out there know minor hockey and chasing the dream is a 12 month a year endeavour! It’s always hockey season.

Does Minor Hockey Provide Enough Exercise?

A recently published paper by Carla Van Den Berg (Calgary) and Angela Kolen (St. FX) found its way to my inbox the other day (google alerts is a great thing) and it caught my eye. This paper, published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, is titled “Children in Organized Hockey: How Much Physical Activity Do They Really Get?”

This is a great question to ask as we increasingly see kids specializing in a single sport at a young age, and so relying more and more on that sport for their exercise requirements. I think of my kids as fairly active, with the oldest playing hockey around 5 times a week, and the middle one playing about 3 times a week. Are they getting their daily exercise requirements when they play hockey?

As the authors point out, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest kids should be participating in 60 minutes or more of moderate or intense physical activity daily. What the authors do in this study is use Actigraph GT3X triaxial accelerometers (I don’t know what these are either!) to measure the intensity and amount of physical activity a group of Atom AA kids experience in a 70 minute practice and a 80 minute game. What they found was that in a 70 minute practice a kid spent 43% of that time in moderate or intense physical activity, while during an 80 minute game, 28% of the time was spent on moderate or intense physical activity. Not surprisingly, (given the amount of time a player is on the bench rather than the ice during a game) practices led to more high level physical activity than games, but neither provided near the recommended 60 minutes of exercise at moderate/physical levels.

A few things about this study. One is the choice of an Atom AA team. At this age and level of hockey, the players are going to be pretty serious about hockey, as will their coaches, and so the kids should be putting in a decent amount of effort, and the coaches should be running high quality practices. A younger age group, or a lower level of hockey, might find even less physical activity scores as the amount of effort, and intensity of the practice could be less than what is seen in the paper.

Also, this study is focused on a single team and only 1 practice and 1 game was used for measuring effort. This study would have benefited from measuring the effort of this group of kids over a number of practices and games rather than just one of each. As anyone that has had kids in hockey knows, some practices/games the kids as a whole can work hard while others they don’t put in as much effort (Friday nights, quality of competition, etc), and the quality of the practices can vary too for a given team (eg the coach was too busy to prepare a practice plan for a given night). Further, running this study on more than one team would have also improved the study as again, even for an age group sometimes differences exist across teams and coaches in terms of effort, quality of practices, etc.

Obviously this is just one study, and I have reservations about the approach used, but the question asked – whether our kids are getting enough exercise through hockey – is an important one and deserves further research. This study seems to suggest that hockey is not enough, unless your kids are playing a few hours a day. I should note this isn’t a hockey specific issue, the authors mention other popular kids’ sports (eg soccer, basketball) that provide far less than an hour of moderate or intense physical activity per hour of activity.

If the findings the authors demonstrate are in the ball park (and although I have reservations on the sample size, the results are consistent with my prior beliefs), even if your kid plays an hour of hockey each day they aren’t meeting their exercise requirements. So what to do? It’s costly to play hockey (in terms of both time and money) and so adding an additional sport isn’t always easy. What stands out for me is gym class. These findings highlight the importance of additional physical activity during the day, and this is where a strong school phys. ed. program that really gets the kids active during school comes in. With debate about the value of physical education in our schools, this study would appear to suggest gym class is as important as ever for the physical and mental health of our kids. As well, getting kids active with unstructured physical activities after school and on weekends (street hockey or the outdoor rinks for those with hockey crazed kids) is another way to supplement what they get through organized hockey.


What To Expect During the Playoffs

Over the next few weeks (or, hopefully, months) Winnipeggers will be experiencing Playoff Frenzy. We will buy more beer and potato chips, sleep less and spend hours at work talking about that save that Pavelec made. There has been quite a bit of research on the effects of sports playoffs on a variety of outcomes. Here are a few things that Winnipeg might expect, based on studies looking at similar sports championships. (In no particular order)

(1) More sex. Assuming the Jets win, that is. This article in Science Daily finds that births in Spain increased 16% after major wins by FC Barcelona. The authors note, “human emotions on a large scale can profoundly affect demographic swings in populations, that national or regional events can reduce the weight of reason and increase the weight of passion.”

(2) More Beer. Last year, there was one Canadian team in the playoffs (Montreal) and there was much lament over how this would negatively affect beer sales across the country. With five teams in the show this year, the opposite effect would be the logical conclusion.

(3) Less Crime. The rationale is simple – when the vast majority of the residents of a city are inside glued to a tv set, there are less people on the street committing crime. This makes even more sense when you consider that demographic most likely to commit crimes (young males) might just be the same demographic who are most likely to be watching the games. This paper analyzes crime in Chicago using minute-by-minute crime reports during major sporting events (although not the NHL) and finds a 25% decline in crime during the Super Bowl (with smaller effects for other major events). Moreover, they do not find evidence that this is due to displacement (i.e. crime rates directly after the games do not spike up).

(4) Water Use. I love this graph showing water consumption in Edmonton during the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game. I hope Manitoba Hydro is prepared for the simultaneous flushing of toilets that will occur in between periods!

(5) Election of Incumbents. Not so much an issue this time around, but Mayor Bowman might want to take note for the future – the Happiness factor associated with having a winning team has been shown to benefit the incumbent.

(6) Workplace Productivity. Will employees spend too many hours around the water cooler discussing the game rather than working? With these late night starts, will employees be too exhausted to work the next day? The short answer is Yes. Productivity in Winnipeg is likely to fall during the next few weeks. The effect can be large. One study (discussed here found that lost worker productivity during the first two days of March Madness in 2013 was an estimated $134 million. The article goes on to note that the effect may be offset by some team-building benefits (not quantified). So perhaps we will see short term losses in productivity, but some long-run benefits.

(7) Overall Economic Benefit? This is likely to be pretty small. Some businesses (sports bars, beer companies, stores selling Jets apparel) will likely experience a boom, but the increased consumption of these products is probably not new spending, but diverted from other outlets. We might spend more time in sports bars but less time in movie theatres; spend more on Jets apparel but less on other clothing. The fall in other consumption is less obvious since it is more spread out, but the effect is real nonetheless and the overall effect may likely be zero. Consider this news story from last year, when the playoffs were less kind to Canadian teams.

So to sum up – little impact on the overall economy, but a boom to sports bars and beer sellers. Sex up, crime down. Productivity may fall so expect some long lines and slow service especially the day after games. But that’s a small price to pay. As long as the toilets can handle the spikes in water usage, I’m willing to put up with some sluggish Winnipeggers recovering from late nights!

Go Jets Go!

Winnipeg Whiteout 2.0: White For the Fans, and Green For the Jets

Exciting times here in Winnipeg with the NHL Winnipeg Jets beginning their first round playoff match-up with the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. This is the first time in the playoffs for the Jets since coming north from Atlanta, and marks the return of a Winnipeg tradition, the Whiteout (where all fans at the arena where white), last seen in 1996 with the original Jets franchise.

The original Whiteout tradition occurred in an era where the home team wore white jerseys (home teams now wear dark jerseys while away teams wear white), with the Jets now wearing blue at home and white on the road.

The Jets reintroduced the Whiteout with #WPGWHITEOUT tweets immediately after clinching a playoff berth on April 9th, and have subsequently marketed the Jets around the white theme. Fans wanted the return of the Whiteout, and the Winnipeg Jets gave fans what they wanted. But is this nostalgia, or just good business sense?

When the Jets returned a few years ago everyone went out and loaded up on Jets merchandise. But anyone that has walked the streets of Winnipeg or gone to a home game can attest that the overwhelming majority of this merchandise is blue.  It’s not hard to imagine that sales may have reached a saturation point – every one in Winnipeg has a blue Jets jersey, and blue cap, and dark t-shirts and so in a sense are “geared up” as far as Jets swag is concerned. So what better opportunity to re-tap this group of consumers and re-introduce the Whiteout for the playoffs. Now everyone will need to go out and buy a white jersey (or t-shirt at the very least) to support the whiteout. Cue the run on white Jets merchandise!

We should be glad the Jets appear to be so business savvy (profitability is important for continued NHL hockey in Winnipeg)! Well done Winnipeg Jets! Here’s hoping their hockey plays on the ice are as successful as their marketing plays are off the ice!


A Few Thoughts on a New Hockey Helmet Safety Study

I’m seeing a lot of media attention around the work of Drs. Stefan Duma and Steven Rowson of Virginia Tech. They have a study coming out in the journal Annals of Biomechanical Engineering which tested 32 hockey helmets on their ability to reduce concussion risk. The authors have also developed something known as the STAR rating system for hockey helmets and maintain a website that shows how the helmets performed. The star system ranges from 0 stars (not recommended for use) to 5 stars (best available).

ESPN has a great write up and includes a video which shows their talk with Dr. Duma about his research, and with Bauer Hockey to get their response on the findings. Virginia Tech also has a write-up which describes the project For those interested, the hockey helmet rating site can be found here

I haven’t had a chance to read the full study at this point, but a few things from their findings certainly stand out for me. First is that the top rated helmet, the Warrior Krown 360, received 3 stars. It is the only three star helmet (3 stars rates “good”) among the 32 helmets. This is not a great finding for hockey helmets. The authors have a similar website for football helmets and they list numerous football helmets with 4 and 5 star ratings. As well, 9 of the hockey helmets were deemed 0 stars and so were not recommended at all. For parents with kids in minor hockey (or those considering putting their kids in the sport) the poor performance of hockey helmets certainly won’t add to the allure of the game!

A second thing that stands out is how poor the CCM Resistance and Bauer Re-Akt 100 helmets perform relative to cheaper helmets within their own brand! My oldest son has the CCM Resistance (and previously had the Bauer Re-Akt). These helmets have been marketed based on them being the latest and greatest in protecting the head (with a price tag to match). So seeing their lesser (and cheaper) helmets perform better (at least according to the metrics used in this particular research) will be sure to raise some eyebrows of those that purchased the more expensive helmets. For instance the Bauer 2100, which is listed as US$34.99, ranks better than the Bauer Re-Akt 100, which is US$269.99. I am very interested to hear how companies like Bauer and CCM respond to this study (My understanding is the CCM Resistance helmet was designed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Ottawa, and so I especially await their response).

Lastly, as a hockey parent, I am always happy to see people working in this area. As a researcher I look forward to reading the academic paper to get a better sense of their research design, and I hope to learn more from the work that follows that builds on or critiques the work of Drs. Duma and Rowson.

What Happens When We Use Analytics Tracking on 8 Year Olds?

A recent video by USA Hockey brings together two of my current interests, hockey analytics and minor hockey.* One of the things coming from the analytics movement is the development of technology to better track the actual game play of NHL players. Recently we saw some of this technology with the 2015 NHL All Star game which incorporated computer chips in the jerseys of the players. This type of technology has been generating a lot of attention as it may improve and change our understanding of hockey performance (see my February 18th blog for more on this).

While this sort of technology applied to the NHL seems really cool, the use of this technology to better understand the game for young kids and how to provide an environment that maximizes their development and interest in the sport could provide important insights. That’s where this recent video comes in. USA Hockey took a group of kids from Detroit’s Little Caesars 8U team and used microchip (RFID ) technology to track the kids in full-ice as well as half-ice and cross-ice game play. They measured things like how often they possess the puck, number of shots, pass attempts, etc and looked at how these changed across different ice sizes.

The findings show how much kids benefit from the smaller ice-surface play. This result probably isn’t that surprising, as I know many who have argued for smaller ice surfaces for young kids anecdotally, but this video provides data which supports this. For skill development, this is great to know, and for keeping kids interested in the game and not getting turned off at an early age, this also proves important.

In Winnipeg, games at 5 and 6 years old are full ice games. I’ve had two kids go through this and I’ve experienced it with a kid who skated through everyone scoring 5 or 6 goals a game (and so possessed the puck for most of the game), and I’ve experienced it with a kid that never got to touch the puck and would quickly become frustrated or lose interest during the game. Both kids have always really enjoyed 3 on 3 at a place in Winnipeg known as The Rink. This is partly due to the unstructured nature of 3 on 3, but also due to the fact that The Rink ice surface is much smaller than a full ice surface. The kids therefore get many more touches with the puck, and are always engaged in puck battles and pressure due to the small quarters, in line with the points raised in the video.

My understanding is that Hockey Manitoba is moving towards games using less than full ice for 5 and 6 year old kids, and I look forward to seeing how my third son experiences the game this way when he starts.

If you have a few minutes, definitely give the video a watch.
*Thanks to Glenn Yates and Randy Aitken for both bringing this video to my attention!

Learning Hockey Analytics the Hard Way

Over the past year I’ve increasingly been hearing words such as Corsi, Fenwick, PDO, and Zone Starts when assessing NHL player performance. As someone interested in hockey as well as being a professor of sports economics I increasingly thought I should take the time to learn what these things are all about.

As many of you know, wanting to learn something, and finding the time to do it, can be two different things. I started teaching a class in sports economics a few years back as a way to get myself to finally learn about this area of the economics literature, and so I figured if I put a few classes of hockey analytics on my sports economics syllabus, then I’d have to teach it (and hence learn it) or else risk embarrassment when I didn’t deliver.

This isn’t a blog about responding to incentives though, it’s about highlighting a few of the interesting things I came across in my reading. First thing is that there are a lot of sites available with data for these different hockey metrics. These sites are a great way to learn what the main measures are that people are using, and they usually contain a description of the measures somewhere on the site. Sites such as Behind the Net, Progressive Hockey, and Hockey Analysis are great places to start. As well, the NHL on its NHL.COM website will be adding a range of hockey analytics data (around 30 different measures) soon, and so is something to keep an eye on as well.

In terms of readings for hockey analytics, I didn’t rely on academic articles so much as what the hockey press and related bloggers have written in this area. Benjamin Wendorf at the Hockey News has a short but informative introduction to hockey analytics, as does Sean McIndoe and Steve Burtch . Coming from these articles you get a sense of what measures people use, how they have changed the way fans and team officials view player and team performance, and give a sense of the things to come in hockey analytics.

The Burtch article is especially interesting as it spends some time discussing the psychology of how humans make decisions, and how mental short cuts and small sample sizes can all lead to poorly made judgements and decisions, leading the reader to better understand how the new approach to hockey analytics can help partially overcome some of these problems.

Something mentioned in McIndoe’s article and seen recently with the NHL All-Star Game is the use of microchip technology in the sweaters of players as well as puck to provide real time data on things like player speed, how fast the puck is shot, possession time, or whether the player enters the zone with possession. As well through the reliance on microchips, we should see increased standardization of the data itself. For more, Alex Prewitt of the Washington Post has a great article on what microchip technology might mean for player tracking.

I’m still a bit of a beginner with these things but I will be teaching a 3 week course on sports economics in May and so will be sure to update this blog with what’s new at the time in this evolving area of hockey assessment.