Eliminate fear of failure in the offseason: Scrimmage
Posted by Dean Holden at March 24th, 2013
by Jack Blatherwick, 21 March 2013
John Wooden, who coached UCLA basketball teams to 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, spoke often about developing offensive skills: “If you are afraid to fail, you’ll never accomplish the things you’re capable of doing.”
Offseason hockey should be the most creative experiences of the year, full of scrimmages without scoreboards, championships and adults who care too much about winning. In the winter, the structured environment places too much emphasis on avoiding mistakes, so offensive playmaking is marginalized.
With nothing but good intentions, we’ve built such a big production around youth hockey that only the most talented player feels free to be creative in ‘big games’ … and every game is ‘big.’ If we really want to develop more Patrick Kanes, we’d encourage creativity and trial-and-error in games, but because of the pressure to win, we employ systems that reduce errors to a minimum. This stifles the creative genius that lives in every youngster, not just the lucky few who mature early.
Sir Ken Robinson (actor and ‘educationalist’) believes that, in our current educational systems, creativity is the most important thing we could teach, but it is not developed at all. It is there to begin with, “… but then we educate creativity out of young minds (by emphasizing memorization of facts, rather than creative problem solving).” If you want to see a great video, Google his short presentation on TED.
Perhaps my most successful moments as a math teacher were those in which I did nothing, and students did their own thing – sort of like unstructured scrimmages in hockey. One seventh-grader who was unable to sit still and listen to boring facts for the entire hour needed to get up toward the end of class and run around the room, drawing a mural with colored chalk on blackboards that covered three walls.
‘Andy’s 10 minutes’ were the antithesis of structure. To reach the highest points, he would jump as high as he could, or classmates would move chairs for him. He sprinted from wall-to-wall and back again, creating a mural none of us could recognize until his 10 minutes were up. In the end, there was always a creation of genius proportions.
A creation of genius proportions? I wonder how often that happens in a youth hockey game? Robinson’s thought fits youth hockey to a ‘T.’ “We educate the creativity out of them.” Winter hockey is too structured; therefore, the offseason is the best time to try creative plays and fail once in awhile. Wooden believes, “The team that makes the most mistakes will (ultimately) win.”
Replace the word “team” with “individual” and it is obvious that skill development must include many low-stakes, competitive opportunities for trial-and-error. This used to be the role of pond hockey and unofficial scrimmages, but these are virtually a thing of the past. Herb Brooks saw this weakness in the highly-structured environment and advised that we, “Return the game to the kids.”
Instead, we ignored the advice of these two brilliant coaches, and made the naïve assumption that adults should control the learning process at every step. Given this environment in the winter, it is important to make the right decisions about summer development. Create your own low-stakes competition. Scrimmage this summer. It’s inexpensive, productive and fun. Buy the jerseys, drop the puck and let the learning begin.