Do NOT Keep it Simple – at Least Not in the Offseason
Posted by Dean Holden at August 16th, 2015
by Jack Blatherwick, 16 April 2015
The color commentator sounded as if he’d just seen the greatest athletic achievement in history. He was ecstatic to explain that the two teams sharing a 0-0 tie after one period “kept it simple.” This wasn’t a playoff game, where winning might arguably be the only purpose. This was regular season college hockey where one might expect improvement to be part of the long-range plan. What is it about SIMPLE that drives coaches and commentators to convince us that safe, vanilla hockey is the path to greatness? In other sports, it’s about complexity and deceptiveness, and “going for it.”
What would the Great One say? Did Gretzky become Gretzky by keeping it simple? Or Datsyuk? Crosby? Kane? Benn? Parise? Is that how we sell 8-year-olds on hockey? “Sign up, and for the next couple decades your goal is to ‘keep it simple?’”
Anatoli Tarasov, the father of Soviet hockey, observed that the North American focus was on stopping attacks, while the Soviet philosophy was on creating them. We might stop for a second and ask why solid defense and creative attack are considered mutually exclusive. We’re the only sport that believes you shouldn’t try to do both with the same passion and creativity. And while other sports improve each year, we’re stuck in the mud, like football was a century ago, before they discovered the forward pass.
The answer is obvious, but it needs emphasis: When the other team has the puck, play your butt off on defense. When we have the puck, it’s “no-holds-barred.” Try anything. Create. Be deceptive. Pass forward, backward and to empty lanes. Experiment … at least for a few months in the offseason.
I waited till spring to print this radical thought. After all, if a player tried a little non-simplicity and risked a turnover in-season, he or she would get benched. To chalk up a win for the meaningless record, coaches inadvertently spoil the fun and individual skill development.
So, I speak to players. The offseason is your chance. Go for it. Attack with all the tools you dream about. Use teammates in the most creative ways possible. These months aren’t just about developing strength and speed. Improve rink sense, playmaking and scoring skills as well as defensive play. Develop better vision, anticipation and read-react decisions by competing in tight areas – small rinks.
Our sport hasn’t improved in 50 years. Oh, players are bigger, faster and stronger, and they’ve practiced skills by the hour with excellent teachers. But they’re not better playmakers, because coaches don’t allow it. Fear of the dreaded turnover ends any discussion about offensive creativity, just as it would in football if coaches were paralyzed with fear. But in football, the solution is to practice deception and complex passing attacks, so that execution reduces the chance of interceptions. Our answer is to run away from it.
For our sport to improve, adults must recognize that skill development in games is more important than a winning record. Keeping it simple all winter is a fool’s approach to being at your best by playoff time. A simple, less skillful approach would be foreign to lacrosse, football, basketball, tennis, gymnastics, diving, figure skating, half-pipe freestyle … well … every other sport but hockey.
A young golfer, Jordan Speith just took a giant step at the Masters, toward an elite position in history by refusing to sit conservatively on a lead. Four straight days he ignored the dangers of “going for it” and sprinted out of reach of the pack. His greatest fear seemed to be that he might let “simple or safe” creep into his psyche.
Somehow, our spokesmen in hockey have decided that “SIMPLE” is the path to greatness.
Category: age-appropriateness, art of coaching, art of hockey, Ask the Experts, career counselling, communication, creativity, cross ice games, decision training, education, evaluation, game intelligence, leadership, learning, philosophy, self-awareness, self-improvement, Skills, small area games, sporting culture of madness, tactics