Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Keyword: GRIT

There are lots of established hockey keywords and phrases that I can use. Things like ‘showing up’, a metaphor for the overall level of activity generated by a team, as in, “Well Bob, the Oilers didn’t even show up for that game.” (Note: These are not the same as hockey clichés, which would be statements like, “They have to get more bodies in front of the net, Bob.” A cliché is a conventional script for the interpretation of complex events, whereas a keyword is generally an abbreviated metaphor or simile. In other words, a cliché might involve one or more keywords, but not all uses of keywords are clichés.) Anyway, there remain some popular hockey keywords the proper usage of which is obscure to me. Today’s example: GRIT

Hockey analysts love to talk about grit. Grit is something that a team or player possesses- one either ‘has grit’ or does not, as if grit was a literal thing. I always get a vague mental image of bags of gravel sitting around the locker room. (“Well, Bob, the Predators clearly have more grit than the Hawks.” “Yes Steve, but I saw Aucoin driving his SUV down to the quarry this morning, so we might be seeing a turnaround in this game.”)

On some level, grit is clearly related to physical size and aggression. Teams that lean more towards the speedy-smallish side are more often accused of being deficient in their quantity of grit, and the hiring of larger, smash-ier types of players is sometimes described as a means of acquiring grit. In fact, in relation to specific players, possession of grit apparently correlates rather strongly with size- unusually big guys, even those who are not particularly smashy, are still often described as possessing ‘grit’.

However, on another level, grit is even more deeply related to winning. I rarely hear a losing team, especially a team on a losing streak, described as having adequate grit, and in fact a lack of grit is frequently given as the proximate cause of habitual losing. Sometimes this is described not as a lack of grit, but as an unwillingness to ‘show grit’, which suggests taking your bags of gravel out onto the ice and possibly smacking people upside the head with them.

Yet this is problematic, because as far as I can tell ‘grit’ is never used in relation to specific in-game actions. I’ve never heard a particular play described as possessing or showing grit, never heard a commentator say, “Wow, Bob, what a gritty shot/check/pass.” Post-game, a team or player may be evaluated as having had or shown grit, but I have yet to hear an analyst explain the process by which he has reached that conclusion. It’s apparently just a fact: saying someone has grit is like saying he’s wearing a red shirt- you don’t have to think about it, you just see it and name it. I can’t see it.

I can fake it. Based on these points, I can accurately use the term ‘grit’ in certain hockey conversation. For example, Ottawa traded away one of their biggest guys, and is also losing, therefore, if I go up to a bunch of hockey people and say something about how the Sens lack ‘grit’, they will probably think I know what the hell I’m talking about. But I don’t. I still have no idea what grit is, when it is shown, how one identifies it, or what it does. Can I get a little help here?

1 comment:

eric said...

I'm not sure if this has become more clear in the last few months, but I'll give you my take on it.
I think you're close in your assessment of the term, but one thing jumps out at me. Your correlation of size to being gritty is if anything, backwards. The players that exemplify grit the most to me are the small players that play big. Grit is a very mind-over-matter type of intangible aspect. Take Sami Kapanen for instance. Philadelphia fans are mostly in agreement that his work ethic is second to none, he is completely willing to play in extremely taxing situations without second thought, and usually does so with a pile of nagging injuries that may cause other players to give less-than-maximum effort. Never Sami. Case in point would be the Flyers playoff run of 2004. Sami had spent his career up until then as a winger, but a seriously depleted defense corp left the Flyers with no choice but to move Sami to defense. And he excelled. He was already heading into the playoffs a bit worse-for-wear, but instantly became one of Philadelphia's more reliable d-men, and playing defense in a heated playoff series is tremendously draining and painful. Kapanen showed his ability to do whatever it takes to win regardless of his physical well being.
Grit is mainly based in the players will to win. Not necessarily the game, either. But to win a one-on-one battle in a corner with an opposing player. Win himself a piece of real estate, if just for a second, in front of the enemy net in hopes of helping his team before he gets smashed. Win a psychological tussle by sticking up for his teammate who was just roughed up after the whistle. Some players have a more pronounced will to win than others. In fact, I may go so far as to say that any physical act that is a direct result of the will to win is gritty. This can even be as simple as skating harder than the player next to you.
So the bottom line after all the babbling...Just how much are you willing to do to win?