“Creativity is intelligence having fun”
Posted by Dean Holden at January 25th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 22 January 2014
Albert Einstein equated creativity and fun (quote above) as his personal answer to a study of the minds of great scientists. He believed that creativity, not knowledge, is the foundation of meaningful education. He would, of course, scoff at our modern pitfall – standardized tests – as a measure of educational success. Rather, he would think of these tests as measures of compliance – guarantors of mediocrity.
So, what about today’s robotic hockey as the evolutionary pinnacle of a game whose inherent skills and speed hold so much promise for magical playmaking? It’s a very mediocre pinnacle at best, about as entertaining as a standardized test. But it wins at all levels of play where the officials ignore the rulebook.
Note about ignoring rulebooks: In more than six decades of hockey, I’ve never seen the officials intentionally ignore offensive infractions such as offsides, or tripping a defenseman, or cross-checking the goalkeeper before he has a chance to catch the puck. It’s the defensive infractions they intentionally overlook to various degrees. At playoff time, the NHL instructs its officials on the North American tradition, “Let the players decide the outcome.” This means, of course, they join hands with the defense to remove the advantage that skill and speed would otherwise have.
Fortunately, this isn’t likely to happen in the Winter Olympics. When the Games are played in Europe on big ice, they represent that brilliant pinnacle we expect from a hundred years of hockey. All the highlight moves from thousands of hours on ponds around the world, the collective genius of the Howes, Orrs and Gretzkys, the Datsyuks, Sedins, Crosbys and Ovechkins – the superhuman efforts by each team to win a gold medal for their country – they will all come to Sochi, Russia in February, where hockey will be played by the rulebook.
We will be told by TV commentators, “Winning starts with defense.” Of course, the playing careers of these commentators were not distinguished by a lot of offense; this is just one of those dumb clichés they espouse in order to prove they’re smart.
Actually, winning starts with whatever option you have at the moment: gaining possession of loose pucks, protecting the puck and making plays, or defending against the opponent’s skills. In the Olympics, however, if your game plan concedes possession of the puck and depends too heavily on defense … you’ll probably lose. Or, put in mathematical terms, the odds favor the team that controls the puck in the Olympics, but great goaltending can save the day for the team with less skill.
In the NHL playoffs, where the smaller rink is combined with an abandonment of rules, winning is made possible by systems that negate speed and skill. “They’re too fast and skillful,” coaches say. “We can’t get into a wide-open game. We have to slow them down.” (We must cheat).
In Europe on a big rink, this is rare. Recently, Finland won the World Junior Championships, and Sweden finished second. Actually, the Swedes thoroughly dominated play in every game of the tournament, and lost to an exceptional goaltender and a disciplined, patient Finnish game plan. The Finns waited until overtime to express their excellent skills.
Anything can happen in hockey games. It is the most fickle of all sports, meaning that domination of play may not always show up on the scoreboard the way it does in a football game.
However, I believe the gold-medal favorite in Sochi is Sweden, and I know Hockey Canada is taking a hard look at why the skills of their junior team were no match for those of Sweden. I just hope USA Hockey is doing the same evaluation.
Why do the Swedes dominate when rules are enforced? First, they are very disciplined and play together in a well-defined system. But their system serves as a platform from which to create brilliant plays offensively. They transition from disciplined team defense to creative offense in a flash. They move to get open and support the puck-carrier, making it impossible NOT to pass quickly. Creative playmaking is second nature; it is an ongoing project of experimentation from the first day of hockey.
When a young Swede first puts on skates, the learning process is best defined as “play.” Einstein would love this approach, because he often played his violin as he mulled over creative new concepts. He would advise coaches (as he did teachers) that creativity comes from fun experimentation or “play,” not from rote memorization of skills.
Einstein’s creativity was, in his own words, “More muscular and visual,” than verbal. Think of that. If the theory of relativity was conceived more by active physical play and visualization than verbalization of facts, it seems we in hockey might consider scrimmage drills as a tool for ‘teaching’ creativity in a game that is too fast and too random for verbalized X’s and O’s.
The Swedish system of development emphasizes ‘play’ and ‘experimental’ decision-making in practices. Mistakes of commission are rewarded. Mistakes of omission are not.
Unlike Swedish development, ours in North America emphasizes winning in weekend tournaments. For youngsters who have not yet perfected skills and decision-making, this means ‘play’ and ‘experimentation’ are pre-empted by the need to get serious and eliminate mistakes, much like a standardized test every weekend. No wonder our game is weak on offensive skills, and we ask the refs to put the whistle in their pocket and “let the (defensive) players decide the outcome.”
<Jack hits several home runs with this article. Well done Jack! – DH>