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Gretzky & Einstein

By Jack Blatherwick, Let's Play Hockey Columnist, 02/08/19, 1:45PM CST

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Creative geniuses who thought outside the box


“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

Unlike college and professional football, offensive creativity in hockey comes mainly from players, and each year it is increasingly “coached” out of the game. Avoiding mistakes has become the highest priority, even at the youth level where the need to win eliminates creative trial-and-error.

Not only do coaches insist on simplistic, structured hockey (chip it out, dump it in, keep it simple), but our educational system joins them to discourage “childish” creativity. Consider how foolish we are as a nation to fall for the current dogma that memorization of facts actually constitutes an education. Those who memorize best and repeat like robots on standardized tests are called “A students.” We forget that rebels like Albert Einstein were the ones who actually changed history, and Wayne Gretzky did 10 things a shift the coach never thought of. 

No wonder Washington politicians have no new answers for old problems! No one has the courage, or educational background, to think outside the box. Actually, that looks a lot like hockey in 2018, while at the same time football coaches are coming up with offenses that are more creative than ever.

Walter Isaacson, who wrote the biography “Albert Einstein, His Life and Universe,” decries any educational system that stifles non-conformity, “Of all the disservice we do our students, perhaps the most critical is demanding that they fit.” Keep that in mind when your PeeWee forwards try something unheard of and turn it over at the offensive blue line, or a fourth grade math student asks, “Why should I learn long division if I will never use it again after fourth grade?” Maybe they’re right and the system is wrong.

We coaches are entrusted with the development of ambitious youngsters with lofty dreams. But we limit those dreams by removing the element of trial-and-error. How can another young Gretzky develop unbridled creativity in our highly-structured youth programs? There are too many trophies – too much hype from parents – too much pressure to avoid mistakes. No doubt, creativity can still blossom in a pond hockey scrimmage, where 10-year-olds learn new moves from older brothers, where the only stakes are bragging rights at the dinner table, and mistakes mean nothing.

Coaches and teachers are more likely to develop genius talent by acknowledging that Wayne Gretzky’s brilliance was that he did things the coach never drew up on the board, or that Einstein frustrated teachers with his distaste for conformity. It was because he thought outside the box that Einstein changed the direction of physics with revolutionary insights into the equivalence of mass and energy and his Theory of Relativity. 

Einstein believed, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” a thought that should be stenciled on every drill book and lesson plan. For coaches, it means that constant reminders about mistakes might prevent a turnover today, while discouraging a creative playmaker tomorrow. The impact players in hockey have always been those who learned the game by creative experimentation, and mistakes are part of the process.

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