Trial and error … then someday … trial and success
Posted by Dean Holden at February 11th, 2012
By Jack Blatherwick
Let’s Play Hockey Columnist
Bear with me hockey folks, while I insert a paragraph about round ball. To appreciate the genius of UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, we’d likely start with his record: 10 NCAA Championships, seven of those in consecutive years in which they won 38 straight playoff games.
In 40 years of coaching he had 885 wins for an .813 percentage. By comparison, Gopher basketball has had an excellent 120-year tradition, but never won an NCAA championship, appearing in the Final Four only once.
Why do I bring this up? As great as the Wooden record is, it doesn’t do justice to his skills as a coach. He is one of the greatest teachers in the history of sport, and every coach would be better after studying his approach.
Wooden was a strict disciplinarian; his teams repeated the most basic fundamentals every day; and yet, he encouraged creativity, and allowed players to learn by trial and error. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything,” he often said. “You’ll be no better at the end of the season.”
So, to bring this brief discussion back to the hockey arena, I’ll offer an opinion that might be worth no more than what you paid for this copy of Let’s Play Hockey … exactly nothing.
At every level of hockey, I believe coaches could learn Wooden’s valuable lesson. We have too much structure that prevents players from learning by trial and error. We call them ‘systems,’ these X’s and O’s designed to prevent mistakes and limit creativity.
“Chip it out. Dump it in. No turnovers. No long cross-rink passes. Get it deep. Third man high (even though sometimes you could get the puck if you never heard the rule). Finish checks after the opponent passes (now I’m really irritating the junior coaches). No, no, no. Keep it simple.”
In other words, “Don’t try to be a Bobby Orr or a Wayne Gretzky, a Pavel Datsyuk or a Sidney Crosby.”
No game requires quicker, more creative read-react decisions than hockey. Therefore, young minds must not be cluttered with rules that slow this process down. The word “no” can’t possibly contribute to the development of the brain to integrate all the visual cues with past experiences to make the best instantaneous decisions.
If we want to develop more Gretzky’s we all better listen to the words of Coach Wooden.