Friday, February 21, 2014

Go forth and make Finnish goalies...


One of my all-time favorite radio shows is a morning sports talk show in St. Louis hosted by an oddly matched trio of gentlemen. One of them is the long time sports guy for the local CBS TV station. His name is Doug Vaughn. Every once in a while Doug will go into a trance and start reciting a bunch of weird hockey metaphors. Here are a few examples I strung together. This has nothing to do with my main point. They just have to be shared with the wider world.
It’s high time for some of these saucer-slapping snipers and the rugged rear guards to strap on the spurs and ride out on out to the forest and let the woodchoppers clear a trail right to grandma’s house and start dumping some meatballs in the crock pot. … They blasted an awful lot of buckshot at the turkey but only one of the bb’s found the gobbler’s pie hole. When you’re bearing down on the pipe cleaner you’ve go to go up top shelf where momma hides the peanut butter or down low in the corner where the mice nibble on the baseboard, you try to go five-hole on the pillow stacker every time and it’s just not going to work. The police of the crease will mace your face if you don’t shoot the boot scoot. -Doug Vaughn
But what I am really interested in is a great article about Finnish goalies in this month's Atlantic called, The Oracle of Ice Hockey. Here is a extended quote from the article remarking on one of the foundational differences in the Finnish goalie school.
Jukka Ropponen, who trained a number of Finland’s goaltending coaches and has subsequently worked with coaches in Switzerland, Russia, and other countries, said, “The foundation in Finland [of goalie training] is probably better than in any other country.” He spoke candidly about the difficulties young goaltenders encounter. “One of the big problems today, everywhere in the world, is that young kids are just dropping down in the butterfly [technique], before they can even skate properly. Young kids see their heroes on TV butterflying all the time. Somebody lifts their stick up with the puck and, boom, they’re down on their knees.” But when overemphasized, the butterfly can be limiting to long-term development. The Finnish system, Ropponen said, is “great for young kids because they have to learn to skate. What I always preach in my system is: We’re not training kids to be their best when they’re 13. I’m looking at what you need to do as a 13-year-old so you can reach your full potential.”
It’s easy to dismiss this last point, which has nothing to do with the butterfly, nor with any sort of specific technique, but with patience. “The thing with the goalies—a lot of the goalies—is that they mature later, most of the good goalies. Kiprusoff was the same way,” Ropponen said. In Canada, the goalie who physically develops the fastest, whose parents have the money to send him to summer camps and buy the best equipment, and who makes the select touring squads, will get the best coaching. Canada is inadvertently weeding out the kid who would have ultimately become its Olympic starter 15 years down the road.
There is some significance here for how we think through parenting, discipleship, our own maturation, and our ministry goals in general. It is easy to be distracted by the realities of the moment and miss the long view. We hear stories about exciting youth groups or college ministries or worship services that are attracting hundreds of young people to the church, but if none of those people are still in the church four years later then something is fundamentally wrong.

 Or, in an oddly similar way, we can hold our children (or adults) to standards too high for them in the moment. We can be determined that they can and will be our idea of their best right now. And we are surprised when they rebel when they grow up. Tedd Tripp describes this (in his book Shepherding a Child's Heart) as taping fruit to the tree vs. shepherding the heart so that it will grow to bear fruit.

Finland's population is significantly smaller than most of the other hockey powers. Yet a substantial number of the premier goalies in the world are from Finland. Finnish goalie coaches understand what it means to be one who is and will continue to be a thriving goalie. The coach their goalies in such away that a thriving goalie at age 13, or 15, or 20 may not look to the eye like they are thriving at all. We can learn something about discipleship from these Finnish coaches and the way they train their "pillow stackers," their "pipe cleaners," their "police of the crease." Jukka Ropponen demonstrates the wisdom of Proverbs 22:6 when he says, "We’re not training kids to be their best when they’re 13. I’m looking at what you need to do as a 13-year-old so you can reach your full potential."

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)