December 10, 2008

So what's Outliers and who's Malcolm Gladwell?

So Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is the best selling book in Canada as Christmas approaches. The book even knocked Don Cherry out of top spot.

So what's it all about? And how is it connected to hockey?

Author Malcolm Gladwell poses a rather interesting question: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and important lives, while most never reach their potential?

Gladwell asserts that superstars are not generally propelled by superior genius and talent: "they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot."

Examining the lives of famous outliers like Mozart and Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, "some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky."

But before examining Mozart or Gates, chapter number one is devoted to hockey. And specifically why is it most elite hockey players are born early in the year? Gladwell's research suggests 40 percent of NHL players will have been born between January and March, and only 10 percent between October and December."

Why is this?

It turns out to be a pretty simple answer. The cutoff birth dates for most youth hockey leagues in Canada is January 1st. In a game where size and maturity always matter, the kids born earlier tend to have a significant advantage because they are a bit bigger and a bit stronger. And since Canadians take hockey so seriously, young kids who show some promise are pushed early, given more attention and ice time, and moved into elite programs.

Simple enough, eh? Gladwell figures if Canada created another youth hockey league for children born in the second half of the year, the nation would have twice as many great hockey players as it does now.

I have not read this book, but it sounds quite fascinating. Check it out, I definitely intend to.


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