By Jack Blatherwick
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist
Hockey is becoming a game of robots with talents so hidden we never get to see how brilliant the players really are. Why? Coaches feel comfortable when they’re in control.
What we really need is more geniuses – independent geniuses, who aren’t so easy to control because they think outside the box. After a coaching seminar, we might think we can teach everything a player needs to know, but imagine coaching Wayne Gretzky as a 12-year-old. In every shift, he did several things we never thought of, so he made hockey better simply because he didn’t wait for someone to teach him the game.
That’s what Albert Einstein did for physics. As I was driving south recently – yes, I saw the forecast and got out of Dodge in the nick of time – I saw a huge billboard with a picture of Einstein. It read: “As a young student, this kid was no Einstein.”
Whoa! I had to read that one twice, even though I was driving. Are we failing to identify the potential geniuses in our classroom or hockey rink, just because at 10 or 12 years old they don’t test well? They haven’t been programmed yet with the required skills?
Never an “A student,” Einstein rebelled against rote memorization of facts. “Conformity,” he called it later, when he lectured. If he were 18 years old today, he’d do poorly on SAT/ACT tests and would get a lot of rejection letters from colleges. Standardized tests are speed contests with no time to look for creative solutions that teachers and test-makers never considered.
Do we think education is nothing more than mastering old ideas and skills – whether it’s hockey or math? The world’s greatest physicist would fail our tests if he lived today, but in reality, it’s the standardized tests that fail.
What is the fate of a generation of young Gretzkys who out-think and out-score their friends in a pond-hockey game, but don’t do well in structured drills carrying pucks around cones? They might be rejected as Einstein was because the drills fail to identify creative genius.
Gretzky himself has said he’s not sure he could make it to the NHL today because his game wouldn’t fit into the box – that’s the box of X’s and O’s that coaches brag about after a win. “We played our game tonight,” they say on TV. “We played with discipline and stuck to the system.” Ugh.
That NHL/college model – disciplined defensive hockey and low-risk offense – doesn’t feature the awesome skills of our greatest players. Worse yet, their emphasis on winning trickles down to youth hockey and suppresses creativity at an age when brains should be stimulated by unlimited, magical playmaking.
Coaches and teachers could learn a lot from Einstein’s educational philosophy. To nurture creative problem solving, he advocates a simple approach, “I never teach my pupils,” he said. “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”