|Holy shit, the head coach talks to his players?|
I ended up going off on a tangent on Lowetide this morning, but since I haven't written anything in a while, I decided to re-post it here.
There are three things from the back half of the Oilers season/full Nelson era (and on that note, I am surprised nobody has made a connection to the TV show “coach”, with the title character played by one Craig T Nelson, but I digress) that have made this season worth watching again.
3) Brandon Davidson – the story is incredible and as a youngish cancer survivor myself (wow – think that’s the first time I’ve actually said that on the internet), he’s an inspiration. I hope he sticks. And as Lowetide himself mentioned, he should be the 7D next year. It’s obvious the coach trusts him, considering his time spent on the PK yesterday ahead of some more, shall we say ‘established’ D-men.
2) The Yaksurgence – I was worried that my Yak #10 jersey would be as dated as Smytty’s 94 all too soon. I love watching him play. Even though he wasn’t on the scoresheet last night, he was making plays all over the ice. One shift in the 2nd, even though it didn’t result in a goal, was all about Yak. It seemed like he was everywhere, taking the puck off the boards, being in the right place to recover and keep the play alive. It was wonderful.
How much of this is the coach, how much of it is pushback/anti-old coach and how much of it is just good players starting to put things together is as of yet unknown, and I think something Lowetide said yesterday, that perhaps needing Dallas’ brand of discipline might have been necessary, is a valid point. However it seems to me that age/experience and, most importantly, trust has a lot to do with the inspired play we’re seeing down the stretch. I hope it isn’t a mirage.
As a prof, I deal with young adults trying to find their way in the world all the time. It’s pretty low stakes stuff on the surface – you know, can these kids string together a sentence effectively and craft an argument that is more about how they interpret the ridiculous stuff I have them read, rather than parrot back my thoughts to me albeit much less effectively? Some students simply don’t care and have come to realize the old adage “C’s get degrees” has just as much merit now, given the emphasis on credentials rather than content/grades. Others know their limitations but want to improve and put in the work. They get frustrated when other profs just tear them apart without offering a different way to build them back up. They start to doubt themselves and feel as though they can’t even ask questions anymore. I had the pleasure of witnessing a few incredible transformations with some of my students this year – the types of students who were afraid to ask questions and didn’t know how to ask for help slowly began to see the world very differently. Their writing began to improve, and they started to ask questions and write about concepts they didn’t know even existed four or five months ago. They began to care. It was incredible to watch and I am so proud of these ‘kids’.
The reason for this extended diatribe about teaching is that I think we’re seeing something with Todd Nelson (and perhaps with Ramsey’s help) that speaks to his ability to reach the youth. I’ve modified my own teaching style a lot over the last three years, and really flipped my teaching practice on its head when I shifted from Queen’s to Trent, because what worked well for me (and my students) at one institution clearly wasn’t working once I got to the next one. I knew it after about 3 weeks in the fall that I had to make a change or else I was going to tank. I wonder if that’s what sunk Dallas, not knowing when it was time to reevaluate his process. He talked a great game about reaching people as individuals, but the rigidity of his teaching practices and emphasis on one type of system and one type of fitness speaks to a pedagogy that is far too rigid to work successfully in every instance.
Figuring out how to reach different types of people (and different types of learners) is really hard. Nelson seems to be someone who has that ability. Tom Renney was probably the last Oilers coach who had that teacher mentality. Ralph Krueger was a great motivator but motivators and teachers aren’t the same – both may get similar results over the short term, particularly in building trust and self-confidence, but motivators, like charismatic leaders tend to burn out over the long haul, particularly if the message stops working. Good teachers value process as much as progress and usually both over hard, quantifiable capital R results – though good results usually happen when both progress and process work well. I think that’s one reason why coaches like Roger Neilson and Al Arbour had so much success in building both systems and players. The story of Al Arbour is that he was viewed less as a general and more as a sergeant – I see Nelson in that same sort of light. Not necessarily that he’ll ever be as good of a coach, but just more in that style – working with his players rather than creating separations like those between officers and enlisted men.The Nelson Oilers seem looser, happier, more confident. Public comments from players ranging from Eberle to Hendricks to Lander about the coach, the room and the team demonstrate that Nelson is indeed doing something different, that he gets how to reach people and build trust. It is purely subjective, not something we can use analytics to prove, but it matters in a big way. I hope they keep Nelson because he appears to be doing something with these players not seen around these parts in a while. Not only do they trust the coach, but they are beginning to trust themselves and each other. We see it in the way that they actually seem to stick up for each other on the ice, they way they seem to be playing with more resilience. It could be smoke and mirrors, but MacT’s ‘visually better’ meme-able statement actually doesn’t seem too far fetched. There are glaring holes on the team and there’s no way a roster with this D and G actually makes the playoffs next year, but little things are happening – little signs of progress that can’t be underestimated. It’s made watching the Oilers a lot less demoralizing than under the previous regime. That may come across as damning with faint praise, but it’s so much better than the dumpster fire that started both this season and last.