(image: wikimedia commons)

What a new form of hockey can contribute to skill development for our national sport

Joshua Shapiro

Understanding how talent is developed can help us improve in everything that we do, and enable us to do so faster as well. As Canadians, we are always looking for ways to better our skills in our national sport, hockey. To answer this enduring question, we should not only consider playing more hockey itself, but also investigate playing a different sport entirely. This article suggests that the sport floorball[1] can act as deep practice for hockey, and can help our country produce more elite hockey players.

Floorball, a relatively new sport, was developed in Sweden in the 1970s and has become popular in Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, among other European countries. It is a specific variation of floor hockey, played in a gym, with lightweight plastic balls and relatively short sticks. The fact that it is played indoors allows the sport to be played year-round, similar to futsal, the adapted version of soccer discussed by Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code. Due to their various similarities, I suggest that floorball, like futsal, “places players inside the deep practice zone, making and correcting errors, constantly generating solutions to vivid problems”.

Floorball, again like futsal, is played in a small gym. This smaller playing surface results in more opportunities to touch the ball. Futsal allows players to touch the ball 600 percent more often than in soccer, and it would not be unreasonable to postulate that there would be a similar increase in the amount of puck-handling by ice hockey players. This gives each player the ability to repeat actions, as is necessary for deep practice. The smaller area also means that there is less space for a player to move, which has two main effects: Firstly, when handling the ball, if a player is not absolutely in control, the ball can easily be taken away. Thus, the little space you have requires the refinement of stick-handling skills, which improves control. Secondly, it becomes particularly necessary to find space on the court to ‘get open’, and necessitates sharper passing.

The equipment differences also allow for deeper practice. The lighter stick, which weighs less than 350 grams, allows for quicker hand motions, improving reaction time. Shorter sticks also mean that the player is closer to the ground, allowing them greater control of the ball[2]. More importantly, perhaps, is the reduced weight of the ball itself, allowing for enhanced responsiveness to touch. Interestingly, the futsal ball was made heavier for this purpose, but in this case, a lighter ball is more sensitive to the player’s touch. The ball also has dimples like a golf ball, and even holes, to make it more aerodynamic; the ball flies faster than a puck can in ice hockey. Once again, increased speed increases the coordination required on the parts of players defending, goalies attempting to catch shots, and forwards redirecting shots at the net. Moves (dekes) can be easily created in floorball, like futsal; greater control of the ball allows for more manoeuvrability and creativity, which can then be transferred to the hockey rink. One of the recommendations in The Talent Code, while discussing his three rules of deep practice, was to “Slow it Down”. There are dekes that need to be practiced in slow motion in order to be mastered, which is sometimes more easily achieved on a floorball court, due to the fast pace at which you glide on ice. Most importantly, as a forward, every touch put on the ball needs to be more fine-tuned, hence similar to futsal, floorball “demands and rewards more precise handling”.

As one would expect, countries where floorball is played have become “talent hotbeds” (similar to Brazil for soccer). Sweden, where floorball is most popular (and who have won the last two World Floorball Championships), has produced many National Hockey League (NHL) stars. The number of young players drafted to the NHL from Sweden has been steadily increasing, and floorball’s training effects on goalies is especially evident. Starting at the turn of the century, the number of Swedish and Finnish goalies has markedly increased[3], and many NHL goalies, among the best in the world, credit floorball in improving agility and reaction time[4]. In fact, many of floorball’s greatest (and certainly most prominent) advocates are former professional hockey players, such as ex-superstar NHLer Peter Forsberg. Famous Toronto Maple Leaf of the 1970s and 1980s, Borje Salming, has actually created a line of equipment. All of the above evidence suggests that floorball should be incorporated into off-ice training in Canada.

Pavel Barber, a hockey skill-developer and strong advocate of floorball, recently interviewed Daniel Coyle about his book on skill development in sports. Barber asked whether there would be merit to floorball in the development of ice hockey players (noting its similarities to futsal). Coyle replied: “Absolutely, makes perfect sense, because think about what your brain is doing in those positions, it’s having to read and react, it’s trying to create that fine edge, to be able to feel in your fingers what’s going on with the puck, and be able to control it”. He noted that in every sport, the pattern should hold: “shrink the space, force the reaction”.

In his book, Coyle describes futsal as “played inside a phone booth and dosed with amphetamines”, and I believe floorball could be described the exact same way. It also produces “an intricate series of quick, controlled passes, and nonstop end-to-end action”. Coyle points out that the smaller space requires that players look for angles, work “quick combinations with other players”, and constantly look for free space. Players are forced to recognize and make plays much quicker, and execute many more touches under constant pressure. All of the above can be said for floorball as well. Floorball puts players on the edge of their ability, (failing and correcting) in order to learn and build skills. Perhaps importantly, floorball is primarily practice in Canada, not nearly as competitive as other professional sports. This makes players feel comfortable taking risks and experimenting, an essential stage of training. Coyle concludes his interview with Pavel Barber by stating “it makes absolutely perfect sense to me that that would be a wonderful way to spend time in the deep practice zone”.

In conclusion, we should seek to develop floorball in Canada, to enable Canadians to reach their highest potential at our nation’s favourite pastime. Before the last Olympics, due to insurance risks, the Canadian men’s Olympic ice hockey team was forced to run a ball hockey practice (not on the ice). While the players largely treated the activity as a joke, the idea had merit, and was perhaps a step in the right direction. I recommend instituting floorball as a dry-land training for junior and professional hockey teams, and promoting the sport among Canadian youth, further developing leagues, camps, and other programs. This sport has the potential to help further the growth of Canadian hockey.

[1] Also commonly known as unihockey, salibandy, and innebandy
[2] This tactic is used in hockey as well; the shorter the stick, the more controlled stick handling
[3] http://www.businessinsider.com/nationality-of-goalies-shows-the-internationalization-of-the-nhl-sports-chart-of-the-day-2013-3
[4] Accomplished Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist played floorball in his development
(image: ullaj)

The Cognitive Neuroscience of Deception

Truth about lies, the highest governing process

Ji Yun Shin

We have probably encountered many troubling scenarios in life where we have felt the urge to lie. Afterwards, we might be so afraid to disclose our lies that we experience enormous guilt. On the other hand, however, intentional lying can sometimes be beneficial in allowing us to attain our goals with less effort. In these particular cases, we are able to justify lying, and thus free ourselves from any discomfort that accompanies mistruth.

Generally, people exhibit great interest in learning various tricks to detect lies in social settings, as evidenced by the countless articles and books available that discuss the relationship between social cues and deception.. However, these resources do not fully describe the brain mechanisms that are involved in the fabrication of lies. In fact, studies have shown that the brain requires higher cognitive function when involved in deception than in truth.

In the U.S. and Indian markets, the commercial lie detector is being widely advertised without much scientific basis. While often cited in some legal cases, lie detector evidence is outright refused in others because it can be unreliable. It is hard to overcome the limitations of lie detection technology. While the efficacy of the lie detector is an often heated, controversial debate in the field of neuroscience, recent studies have been reporting very amusing results in which patterns of brain activity have been correlated with deception.

In the presence of new imaging technology, scientists have come to reconstruct the definition of deception. DePaulo et al. described deception as a deliberate attempt to mislead others through literal truths. A review done by Spence et al. also introduced perspectives borne from fMRI techniques that are being used to measure deception in the brain, demonstrating the importance of mistruth to human social interactions. According to this study, the delivery of untruthful information is considered to be harmless in many social circumstances, acting as a foundation for humans to achieve various purposes. The study also showed that participating in deception is ideal for a child at the age of 3 or 4, so that they may better learn self-control. In more detail, learning self-control at an early age is a prosperous endeavor; Spence et al. claim romantic relationships can be facilitated by deception. As a result, some social interaction disorders may be associated with a lack of this essential skill. Although Spence et al. addresses the danger of habitual lying, they emphasize that when used in moderation, deception is key to human interaction in a social context.

It has also been reported that the theory of mind is absolutely necessary for deliberate deception. In other words, one must have an understanding of the intentions of another in order to deceive others effectively. Consequently, it is assumed that if a person lies despite lacking a thorough theory of mind, it can be attributed to a cognitive impairment. The formulation of lies is viewed as an additional cognitive process that requires prefrontal executive systems. Deception, which involves withholding information, requires ‘inhibition’. According to Ford’s study in 1995, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is involved in the process. Patients with orbitofrontal lesions showed a tendency to refrain from lying, in that they could not successfully refrain from revealing truthful responses at inappropriate times. Also, in non-human primates with lesions in this brain area, deficits in conditional responses were observed. Another area that is also known to be involved in response inhibition (Spence et al.) is the ventral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). Furthermore, increased activity in the PFC and anterior cingulate gyrus areas, which are mostly known to be responsible for executive functions such as decision making, was observed when participants were made to lie, suggesting that deception was incorporated in the executive process. Although in no way singularly conclusive, and having its own flaws in experimental design (For instance, only having, ‘yes’ or ‘no’, as possible responses), overall, this study revealed important information about the physiology of deception through modern imaging techniques.

Finally, recent improvements in the quality of fMRI studies have allowed us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of deception in human cognition. We suppress truthful information when we choose to deceive others for social benefit or otherwise, suggesting higher response inhibition. When constructing any social contextual responses, we must consider our intentions through the lens of our human cognition.

DePaulo, B. M., Lindsay, J. J., Malone, B. E., Muhlenbruck, L., Charlton, K., & Cooper, H.(2003). Cues to deception. Psychological bulletin, 129(1), 74.
Spence, S. A., Hunter, M. D., Farrow, T. F., Green, R. D., Leung, D. H., Hughes, C. J., &Ganesan, V. (2004). A cognitive neurobiological account of deception: evidence fromfunctional neuroimaging. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 359(1451), 1755-1762.
Ford, C. V., & Price, J. S. (1996). Lies!, lies!!, lies!!!: The psychology of deceit (p. 118).Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Insects for a Snack?

by Loloah Chamoun

If I told you that I could incorporate insects into your diet without you even noticing, would you believe me?

In January 2015, I, along with a few fellow classmates, embarked on an eye-opening journey that taught us a lot about the ever-growing food insecurity issue. Most importantly, it sensitized us to the existence of many potential solutions that are not being utilized to their full potential, for reasons including a lack of education about their benefits, a lack of public awareness, and the controversial nature of these solutions themselves.

I have since become an advocate of entomophagy, the long-standing practice of insect consumption. The indigenous Australians used to cook moths, while the ancient Algerians used to harvest locusts. Contrary to popular belief, insects are not solely seen as pests or as a famine food eaten in times of despair. They are, and have long been, a viable food source to many populations. According to the United Nations of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it has been estimated that two billion people readily consume insects as part of their everyday diet, and about 2000 species have been identified as edible. These include beetles (31%), caterpillars (18%), crickets, bees and ants (14%), grasshoppers and locusts (13%), cicadas and bugs (10%), and others, including mealworms and silkworms (10%). Sadly, as commonplace as insect consumption is in some parts of the world, it has yet to cross the taboo barrier in most westernized societies.

Entomophagy has multiple advantages, a major one being its sustainability. With an exponentially growing global population, FAO estimates that the world will need to increase its food production by 70% by 2050 in order to support a projected global population of nine billion. With livestock production increasingly competing for scarce resources and adversely impacting the environment, alternative solutions to conventional livestock and feed sources are urgently needed. The raising of livestock such as cows, pigs and sheep occupies two-thirds of the world’s farmland, and generates 20% of all the greenhouse gases driving global warming. Farming insects, however, produces far less emissions. Breeding commonly eaten insects such as locusts, crickets, and meal worms, emits 10 times less methane. Insects in general also produce 300 times less nitrous oxide, another warming gas, and much less ammonia, a pollutant produced by pig and poultry farming. In addition, because insects are cold-blooded, they are much more efficient at converting food into body mass. For every ten pounds of feed, a cricket colony gains four to five pounds of body mass, compared to the single pound that cows put on. Considering this together with their high reproductive rates and quick developmental times, their food conversion efficiency may be twenty times that of cattle. Furthermore, insects are an excellent source of proteins, vitamins, fats and essential minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc. A kilogram of termites or one of locusts provides about 350 to 500 grams of protein respectively— comparable to the 320 grams obtained from beef, or the 7 grams obtained from tofu (for the vegetarians out there).

If we all switched to eating insects, up to 30% of the world’s land surface could be reclaimed from the livestock industry, up to 18% of our global greenhouse gas emissions would be eliminated, and up to 33% could be cut from average food prices in most countries. However, since this is not a realistic short-term outcome, the immediate aim of insect production could be towards providing more sustainable feed for livestock, chicken and fish, as a replacement to the current resource-intense fish meal and soybeans.

As much as the option of using insects as feed replacement sounds feasible, including insects into our diet is something we are very skeptical about. As a society, we need to overcome this socio-cultural concern by slowly transforming our hesitance into intrigue—This where the role of taste education comes into play. This will help harness curiosity around entomophagy, allowing people to get involved emotionally, gastronomically, and intellectually with insect-consumption. By understanding the social and cultural backgrounds of entomophagy, as well as the benefits it provides, we will learn to develop pleasure and appreciation for what we used to think of as an unusual practice. Since it seems that both the diversity and cultural importance of traditional foods have eroded with time, entomophagy could lead the path of re-exploration for the cultural heritage and diversity of the multiple food cultures we are exposed to.

In the Developing Solutions for Developing Countries competition, organized by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) earlier this year, my teammates and I brought back first place against teams from all over the world. The goal of this contest was to promote entomophagy by having contestants utilize insects in the development of a solution to a common nutritional problem in a developing country of our choice. My teammates and I chose to tackle anemia and malnutrition amongst the Syrian refugees in the Middle East, a common problem in almost half of the children and women in refugee camps.. After multiple trials, we successfully developed a high-protein powder mix using ground roasted locusts, which could be used to prepare both falafels and hummus with the simple addition of water. You never would’ve guessed that insects were used as a major ingredient! The product not only tasted wonderful, but also had major nutritional benefits thanks to the addition of locusts, which provide a significant amount of protein and iron.

Naturally, we were faced with a series of problems in the making of this product, ranging from its color and taste to the ethical concerns that stemmed from using insects for edible purposes. We were able to overcome the taste and color problems by using a blend of Mediterranean spices. Since 80% of the Syrian refugees were Muslim, however, we had to ensure that the insect species we were using were halal. According to the Quran, locusts are the only insects allowed for consumption, and were thus our insect of choice. Then, we conducted acceptability analyses amongst Montrealers originally from Syria to great effect. We were definitely not the only ones that had thought of interesting ways to incorporate insects into one’s diet while serving nutritional purposes, however—ideas ranged from high protein cookies using crickets to nutritionally enhanced porridge made with mealworms, and many more.

Expanding the use of insects as food, either for humans or as animal feed, could have major implications on our health and our environment, as well as great potential to assist developing countries in alleviating nutritional issues. By being open-minded, adventurous and creative, the taboo barrier surrounding entomophagy will easily be broken.

Industrial Agriculture

by Dima Mutran

Did you know that 82% of starving children in the world live in countries where food is fed to animals within livestock systems? These animals, in turn, are slaughtered and then shipped off as food to more well-off individuals in developed nations. With 8 million people in our current population suffering from starvation, food insecurity has become a severe problem that needs immediate attention. If not, humans run the risk of depleting the planet’s resources to the point where life on Earth may no longer be sustainable.


Food insecurity can range from anything between buying less or cheaper food to spending days without food. The four pillars of food security include availability, access, utilization, and sustainability. Amongst these, availability and sustainability have become most critical in recent times due to a host of factors including climate change, rapid population growth, and the depletion of resources from excessive food production.


Global agricultural systems have witnessed significant changes over the past century. Prior to World War II, a single farmer could feed around 20 people. However, with the development of modern agricultural technologies, by 2006 a farmer could feed around 200 people. Such an increase in our capacity to grow food has helped increase efficiency in food production, as well bring about significant reductions in food prices, with household expenditures on food halving over the past fifty years, dropping from 20% in 1960 to 10% in this past decade. However, such a development in agricultural capacity has not had the desired effect when it comes to global food security, as efficiency has come at the expense of the wellbeing of our planet.


For food production to occur, we need land, water and appropriate atmospheric conditions. Many of these, however, suffer from poor distribution and resource allocation. Firstly, about 70% of global freshwater withdrawals have been used for agricultural purposes, with most of these withdrawals used for irrigation. This often results in overconsumption of freshwater supplies, as such areas often are not capable of sustaining human life in such vast numbers. Many waterways, such as the Colorado River, have reduced flows, whilst others, such as the Aral Sea (located in the former Soviet Union), have completely dried up. Such abuse of fresh water supplies can be attributed to the 70 billion livestock animals being raised worldwide. Such a vast amount of livestock require staggering amounts of grains and crops to sustain (recently estimated at 50% of global crop production), which in turn require vast amounts of water to grow.


Secondly, around 40% of global land area is used for agriculture. Land used to breed livestock account for 30 million sq km of the planet’s land (equivalent to the size of Africa), as numerous landscapes have been cleared and altered just to grow food. A common practice, burning tropical rainforests to make way for cattle ranching, is also causing increasing amounts of CO2 to be released into the earth’s atmosphere.


Finally, 22% of greenhouse emissions are caused by the agricultural sector— nearly 80% of which can be attributed to livestock production. This is more than the greenhouse emissions caused by transportation, manufacturing and electricity systems combined. 20% of fossil fuel use goes to into food production in a time where the world is on the verge of running out of these unrenewable energy sources. Fertilizers have increased the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen in the atmosphere at an alarming rate, while the methane produced by cows is 25-100 times more damaging to the world’s atmosphere than the CO2 released from cars.



Additionally, the world population is growing at a terrifying rate. Today, we number just over 7 billion, with the world population still growing by approximately 75 million a year (equivalent to the current size of the German population). At this rate, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, with food demand projected to double. Growth in food demand, combined with stress from climate change, will intensify competition for both water and energy resources, creating a vicious cycle as each problem perpetuates the other.


So, how will it be possible to increase productivity without harming the environment? There seems to be no single solution to this problem. One of the main issues we need to address is the overconsumption of animals. Simply decreasing meat consumption, for instance, could already have a huge impact on the planet. If everyone in the world participated in Meatless Monday, it would be equivalent to taking out 20 million medium-sized cars off the road. Farming in the past required fewer fertilizers or pesticides, and was harmless to the environment. These days we refer to the traditional farming methods, as “organic farming” —this may be one of many possible solutions.


Another interesting project that aims to address food security and the environment issue is introducing insects to our diet. Insects are promising because on top of being abundant in our ecosystem, they are also high in proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. They require less feed, less water, less land, and less energy to farm, and generate substantially less environmental pollutants. Insects have already become commonly added to dishes in Mexico, Thailand, and Uganda. The problem, however, is that the rest of the world may not be as eager about this solution, owing to our deep-seated aversion to these tiny, crawling creatures.