Twenty-two years ago, number twelve for Carlyle was in kindergarten

More Than A Game

FTLComm - Tisdale - Thursday, February 21, 2002
Yesterday Michael Townsend sent me a clipping of a New York Times editorial by a form London Ontario editor now with the New York Times entitled "Worrying About Hockey Is Canada's National Sport". Now Mike knows full well that Hockey is one of the things that has been a very important part of my life with three sons who played the game all across Western Canada. Mike wanted to know what I thought about Jeff Hale's article and below is my response.

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Wayne Gretzky comment about it being a life and death issue is absolutely accurate.

But what Jeff does not get into is why this is the case. It really has nothing much to do with Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night and perhaps very little to do with the NHL.

The reason for the absolutely intrinsic connection between hockey and being Canadian is that hockey may not be a game at all. You see hockey is, for those kids to become "players" at any level, engage in the game that supersedes reason, intellectual thought and anything as silly as cultural awareness.

Now what you are going to get is some heavy stuff here but you asked.

The physical skills needed to skate, handle a stick and a puck require such a long and extended period of training that they begin at age four or five. This is to master the physical skills. But this raises a difficult problem.

How do you sustain a sport and a child's interest in something that precedes Piaget's clearly definable formal thinking stage of development? All team sports require the player to have the intellectual capacity to visualise the action of opposing players and team-mates and to do that, you have to be at least eleven and for a girl about ten.

Howie Meeker was aware of this and preached in his books about the game that you should just concentrate on the skills until that magical formal thinking time comes in the child's life, but of course no one listened to Howie, well at least not in Canada. Europeans and others did and they actually developed games to develop hockey skills, but avoid actual play prior to what would be the last year of "Atom" hockey in Canada.

The result of this is absolutely startling and makes so much sense when you realise what has happened.

To make it possible to play at an early age Canadian coaches teach the game in a manner that will avoid the need for intellectual "image-ation" the game is taught by rot, do this, do this and do this.

Now this process is extra powerful, because Canadian kids learn the game not as a game at all, but as a set of complex behaviours. Furthermore, they learn it all without thought. The actions that make a great hockey player are seen in children at the earliest age they play. Studies have shown that Canadian kids are actually selected for the NHL by age ten.

Just to carry this a little further, studies also show that all but a very few professional hockey players are born in the winter. A child born in late spring or summer has a slim chance and one in the early fall is simply not going to ever try. The reason is that the development, physical abilities must be fine tuned enough, that they match the other kids and being born in the summer makes you six months younger than a kid born in mid winter.

With these factors involved the little kid develops the physical behaviours that make him acceptable by this fellow players first, then his coach and then his parents. This hierarchy of acceptance is intrinsically important as to why the skills from hockey are completely transferable to all future endeavours in life.

Hockey is impossible, as an individual sport, or individual effort; only concerted matched coordinated play will result in victory, or a minor defeat. Superstar kids who able to score a hat trick in a game and their team loses the game, will find themselves sitting on the bench and their parent wringing their hands and bitching to the coach about balanced ice time.

Now here is something you can try to test this explanation of hockey. Talk to people who have played, no matter how much, or at what level and you will discover how little they can tell you about their personal experience. They can relate endless details of games they have watched, or of NHL statistics, but when it comes to their own personal action, they are mute because what happened to them was not a verbal activity, but a rot reactive stimulation response activity.

This means that Canadian hockey is a visceral personal involvement thing, it is not a game, it is a way of life. A former hockey player has learned to handle defeat, he has learned reliance on his fellow man, he has learned to handle his emotions and aggression and he has discipline that makes him the best that can be expected of a person in time of battle or conflict. A hockey player has been to war and survived. He has lost and goes on to lose again. He loves deeply with acceptance his fellow man, opponent or teammate.

So Jeff spotted the difference, but I hope I have explained the reason. Hockey is Canadian life, not the other way around.

And, by the way, if they lose tonight and go home disappointed and bitter they will get over it and so will we. They get paid millions, we all live life and our transferred hockey life each and every day and losing is part of the game of life.


Timothy W. Shire