Thinking inside the box

    Posted on Saturday, August 18, 2018 at 12:32 PM

    Posted by Mike McPartlin on Aug 18, 2018 12:32:04 PM

    Creativity might come from thinking outside the box, but fundamentals come from thinking inside it

    By Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy


    How do you explain a generational player like Wayne Gretzky?

    Wayne Gretzky Thinking Outside the BoxThe first time I saw Wayne Gretzky play hockey was at the old Chicago Stadium. He was 18 years old at the time.

    I remember thinking how his approach to playing the game was so "unusual."

    Unusual ... and unusually good. 

    Even then he was so unbelievably creative. It was as if he'd learned the game on another planet.

    He seemed to be the very definition of "thinking outside the box."

    Gretzky's fundamental skills were unmatched.

    Like so many others, I admired the Great One's prowess as a player, while at the same time being a little baffled by it.

    Over time, however, I came to appreciate that Gretzky's genius was his ability to be creative from within the box. 

    Hockey was still hockey after all.

    And I soon came to realize that all of Gretzky's "magic" stemmed from his unbelievably solid fundamentals.

    Here's a partial list of Gretzky's attributes as a player:

    • Great skater - unusual skater, but fundamentally sound - very quick and fast enough
    • Terrific shooter - not the hardest shot, but one of the most accurate, with a great release
    • Awesome passer - forehand, backhand, sauce - he had it all - arguably the best ever
    • Fantastic puck handler - the puck seemed either glued to his stick - or on a string
    • Nonpareil hockey sense - he showed what was possible, revolutionizing the game 

    Gretzky's creativity depended on his fundamental skills.

    The first four of those attributes are all "fundamentals-based."

    Only the last attribute truly reflects his uncanny ability to "think outside the box." 

    Yet, reflecting on his amazing career (and with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight), it's obvious to me now that Gretzky never could have developed his other-worldly hockey sense without first having developed his unbelievably solid fundamental skills.

    What lesson can we take away from this? 

    If there's a lesson to be learned from Gretzky, it is this:

    Creativity might come from "thinking outside the box," but in order to "effectively" think outside the box, one must first master the fundamentals.

    And to master the fundamentals (on which creativity depends), one must first be able to think "inside the box."

    After all ...

    Hockey is still hockey. Hockey's fundamentals are still hockey's fundamentals.


    Nine Dot Puzzle Thinking outside the box


    (For a very interesting and more general treatment of this topic, see "First, Think Inside the Box" by Christopher Peterson, PhD, a brief article from 2010 that appeared in Psychology Today.)


    At Bridgedale we are committed to the development of our young student-athletes, helping them to develop their physical and mental skills so they can perform at their best when it matters most, no matter the arena of life that challenges them. If you would like to learn more about Bridgedale Academy, please click the button below so we can schedule a time to chat.
                                                                                           Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy


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    Bridgedale Academy Classical Education for Middle School hockey players

    Bridgedale Academy is now accepting applications for the 2018-19 School Year. 

    Bridgedale Academy is an all-boys school for athletes, a prep school for serious youth hockey players. We will offer grades 5th through 8th in the 2018-19 school year. In addition to our winning combination of sports and academics, we focus on leadership training. We use a classical academic curriculum and our graduates go on to attend some of the most prestigious high schools in the midwest, including Lake Forest Academy, Culver Military Academy, Shattuck St. Mary’s, Northwood School, Benet Academy, Fenwick Prep, St. Ignatius Prep, Latin School and Providence Catholic. We pride ourselves on being the top youth hockey prep school in the nation. Thirteen (13) of our former or current students have already received their NCAA Division 1 college hockey commitments. Three (3) of our former students competed for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and will begin their college playing careers in 2018-19, two at Notre Dame and one at Michigan.


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