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Deflections: Creating a space to learn in practice


I wanted to scream.

Instead, exhibiting much restraint, I paced, rubbed my eyes, and covered my mouth just in case bad thoughts morphed into words and slipped out. All I could think of was how come people don’t get it.

Here was the scenario: I’m in this rink awaiting the next group to go on the ice, which happens to be a program I’m overseeing. In the hour preceding ours, a group of tiny girls are in a ringette program. They’re maybe 4-6 years old. Only a handful can do much more than walk quickly. They haven’t improved much since the fall. Their leaders, young ladies who are clearly experienced players, have been doing lots of fun and cute things with them all year. Teddy bears on the ice and little toys and occasionally treats when they leave the ice. Fun and cute, but not really fun, cute and effective teaching.

On this morning, I think they’re trying to teach them how to actually play the game. So they set up nets at each ringette line the length of the rink. They put half the group around one net, about eight kids, and half at the other. They put out one ring and encourage the heck out of the girls to do what ringette players are supposed to do. Except that, like I said, most can’t skate and never touch the ring. The handful who do touch it monopolize the game, such as it is, in a space that might as well be the Mediterranean – if it could freeze.

Watching from the lobby, my stomach churns. I desperately want to jump on the ice, drag the leaders in and say:

“Ladies, they can’t skate. Make the space, oh, the size of a circle.”
“Give one ring for every two girls.”
“Never mind the nets. They can’t see them without binoculars.”
“Put the better skaters with each other - all four of them!”
“How enticing do you think it is for a child who can barely move to be urged to corral a ring they can’t get to!?”
“Which part of this is fun?”
“Too big a space! TOOOOO BIIIIIGGG!”
AAARGHHH! (inner thoughts)

But hockey is only marginally better with its cockeyed physical game structure. I was recently chatting with someone in a Toronto-area rink while watching my niece play. This couple’s six year old son plays Tyke level (six year olds) something or other, full ice, 6-on-6, with goalies...gosh, just like the pros. The mother made a comment that the team was having some difficulty learning positions.

I wanted to scream. No, really, I did...

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