Hockey is my game. I'm an author of five books on hockey, and my book "World Hockey" published in 1984 has a feature article on that New Zealand men's hockey team and its remarkable Montreal 1976 Olympic 'Gold Medal' victory.
That was 38 years ago, the year before I entered seminary (Morling College) training for ordination as a Baptist Minister and a year before I married.
The Black Sticks getting back on top of world hockey (they lost to the Dutch in the World Hockey League final, played in New Delhi, India recently) brought the whole thing back to me as to the philosophical nature of that 1976 victory.
This is that story, which I noted in part in my Christian Today article of 8 October 2009. (au.christiantoday.com/article/new-zealands-1976-olympic-gold-hockey-secret-/7099.htm) The real victory of the New Zealand team's was an unsung hero, the late Douglas White, which came to light when I met his son Dr Geoffrey White who had come across for his father's funeral from Dunedin.
Douglas White and I had become friends after we moved to Tweed Heads in 2006. He understood the nature of the pressures that young men felt at university having been a College Master in Dunedin (Otago University). He was 87 when he died in 2009 and in the four years prior to his death I had Morling College students sit under his feet (as it were) who had come up for a week of ministry. They were ministered to by Douglas White.
I was invited to conduct his funeral and spoke of his part with these seminarians, which drew good humour as the congregation knew instinctively of what I was speaking. These young people saw Douglas White either as Methuselah (because he was so old), Zechariah (because he looked and spoke like a prophet) and Catweasel (because he spoke in 12th century imagery). Catweasal was a 1960's children's television program.
Mr White's son, Geoffrey White, who came over from Dunedin, New Zealand, for his father's funeral, spoke of his father's astonishing ability to bring the best out of people, and this was most obvious when he coached sporting teams.
Geoffrey White said that he discovered the technique his father employed was intellectualising the problem area of the athlete. At that point he developed an idea for the athlete to employ with a simple redirection of play. In relation to wider strategy, the same applied. It was revolutionary. He commanded extremely high personal respect for his understanding of 'the inner athlete'.
The philosophical hockey story
The university teams that he coached won countless rugby and hockey championships within New Zealand, and he decorated his 'den' with framed photographs representing all these rewards.
After Dr Geoffrey White spoke, I re-read my 10 page article in my book 'World Hockey' on that New Zealand 1976 Montreal Olympic Gold Medal, and realised that it spoke of the techniques that this New Zealand team had developed to counter the new European style of 'power hockey'.
In the early part of the 1970's the Dutch, West Germans, Spain, Great Britain and Belgium had reinvented hockey to put an end to the stranglehold the sub-continent nations (India and Pakistan) had on the sport.
Rather than competing with stick skills, the Europeans developed soccer tactics, by pushing the ball back to retain control. Goals came from penalty corner set plays with specialists corner strikers. West Germany won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, Holland the 1974 World Cup Gold Medal.
New Zealand for the 1976 Montreal Olympics came up with a strategy to counter this new European 'power hockey'. As a result, New Zealand drew with West Germany 1-1, beat Belgium 2-1, then Spain 1-0 and in the semi-final, defeated Holland 2-1, before putting paid to Australia 1-0 for the Gold Medal.
Until this international tournament New Zealand had never looked like making a semi-final. Thirty-three years later, Geoffrey White gave the secret away.
Six from Otago University
Six of the players, that is more than half the team, were from the Otago University hockey team that was coached by his father Douglas White. When they returned to Dunedin, it was revealed that the techniques Douglas White had suggested they employ to beat the European style of play, had been adopted in Montreal by coach Ross Gillespie.
In discussing this with Geoffrey White, the 'secret' Douglas White employed required the athlete to be super fit as it hinged on consistently pushing the play to the right side of the field, in effect boxing their opponents in, as they were used to confining themselves to their conventional positions.
It was a philosophical plan to upset the European's set play and gave just enough scope for the New Zealanders to snatch an occasional opportunity to score for themselves.
The Gold medal outcome was an undeniably a result of Douglas White's careful intellectual analysis on how the counter European set play patterns.
Now, the Black Sticks, after all these years are back on top of world hockey and I for one will have my eyes and ears opened as to how they've developed a fresh philosophical approach as art imitates life in so many different ways. More so in ministry, through our young writers, it illustrates once again that our youth are won or lost to us on the philosophical (which is Gospel 101).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html