The Death Of Slovak Hockey

Hockey, fatalism, pessimism

May 20, 2012

Allan Stevo

It was not one year ago when one of the most well-recognized magazines in Slovakia declared the death of Slovak hockey. The good players were all born during communism claimed the allegedly conservative publication. Good hockey was a product of those times.  Perhaps bad hockey was inevitably therefore a product of the times after communism. Were Slovaks being left with only two options – either return to communism or forever be doomed to bad hockey? Without the logic of central planning, the wealth of the nation could simply not be used to muster the resources required to succeed in a post-communist era.

This is the country in which people young and old, male and female rejoice at the success of Slovak hockey and brag about it to visiting foreign strangers like myself.  Wouldn’t communism perhaps be a better fate than giving up on this source of pride of the Slovak nation?

 

Well, thanks to the 2012 Slovak hockey team, the 2011 prediction made by the Slovak weekly Tyzden has been put to rest. Maybe now Slovaks won’t feel compelled to choose communism as a way to achieve pride in hockey.

Did communism really lead to better hockey players? Could there be some other answers that explain this scenario? Is it possible that communism might not be the only answer to the question of how the Slovak national hockey teams that came of age  a decade after the fall of the iron curtain got so good? Surely I know that no logically minded Slovak would say to himself  “There is only one way to achieve a good hockey team and that is through communism.”

Something would be lacking in that explanation. Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia somehow do not prosper in hockey despite similar central European traditions and communist governments on their lands. Germany, with an East German communist hockey program combined with post reunification West German wealth-spreading would logically bring the best hockey teams imaginable. The idea that Canada or the U.S. would have strong hockey teams despite being less statist than former Czechoslovakia, might cause one to question that theory linking communism and good hockey.  To assume there is only one way to get from point A to point B lacks creativity. If one were to add to that and say “The only way to get from point A to point B is through a specific form of government that was popular for a small fraction of human existence” would be even less creative as it would ignore all the other successful methods humans have used to organized themselves toward shared goals.

I wonder if there could be a different source of that theory, something that leads me to ask questions about Slovak culture, questions I have no answer to, questions you can perhaps help me answer.

 

Are Slovaks More Comfortable in Pessimism?
Do Slovaks prefer an environment in which they mourn their certain, inevitable failure over one in which they visualize their success? I was raised in America to appreciate the underdog, to be able to visualize the victory against all odds, to support what all others may see as the lost cause.  Risk also brings reward.  The human mind can overcome almost all adversity and deliver success. That is how I was raised, and I have observed that many Slovak families that moved to the U.S. developed a similar tendency toward optimism, even if that optimism does seem to err on the side of a blind and arguably naive optimism.

 

At the same time Slovak families living in Slovakia developed comfort in the idea that there is no use in being optimistic. The worst possible outcome is likely ahead.  Maybe this week, another article will run informing the readers about the real death of Slovak hockey.  This inevitability of this pessimism is tied to the next question.

 

Do Slovaks Prefer Fatalism?
What role is played by fatalism in Slovak society? The idea that something must happen, especially something bad, is a powerful force for many Slovaks.

 

Fatalism is the assumption by an average person that he or she is in possession of an expert level of knowledge about the certainty of impending doom. Fatalism seems to be a comfortable de facto situation for many Slovaks.

 

These two forces that I have come to know well in my time in Slovakia – pervasive pessimism and fatalism – seem to be a likely division on why some Western friends of mine saw a Slovak hockey team with such great past success that could work harder and become better after a less than ideal finish in 2011, whereas some Slovak friends of mine spoke with certainty about a Slovak team that would never be better.

 

This ability to personally affect the outcome is, after all, the basis of what makes sports pleasant – how often the results are based not on luck, but on merit. You can work harder, focus better, push stronger and win. Sports aren’t just an exertion of effort who’s outcome is out of your control. Maybe that’s something about which I am wrong – maybe that is a view of sports that comes from my own culture and is not universal.  Maybe sports, like shooting craps, is a game largely of chance, but my American sense of optimism convinces me that it is much more than just a game of chance.

 

As with many of the things that I write, I seek to understand the cultural trend and look for ways that these aspects benefit Slovak society. I am uncertain how this Slovak fatalism does benefit Slovak society. I have noticed that several members of the Slovak national hockey team are on my email address list.  If a member of the Slovak national hockey team were to come across this, I would be especially interested for his insight on this matter.  Does a Slovak athlete feel more comfortable after privately and maybe even publicly declaring himself a loser than after declaring himself a winner? does that declaration make success more likely? As you see, there are many more questions in this piece than there are answers. As you watch Slovakia face Russia in the contest that will determine the world’s best hockey team later today, I hope you will be kind enough to think over some of these questions and to help me answer them in this space.

 

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com.  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

 

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Comments

  • I don’t think it is all that complicated.
    Slovaks are lot less tolerant than Americans of those who over promise and under deliver. We like people who do the opposite. And, after forty plus years in the US, I still think the tendency to deliver more than I promised helped me to successfully compete in this society full of people who prefer to err by overestimating their abilities.

    George

  • It´s without a doubt true that most of us have a tendency to see the glass half emopty rather than half full.
    On the ither hand one has to consider whether this year´s success is a true reflection of Slovak hockey. Sadly, it isn´t. That isn´t being pessimistic, that´s reality, which could be confirmed by experts and definitely not only Slovak ones. The success of this team is incredibly shocking, I think if somebody told even the players that this would happen a few weeks ago, even they would probably think that that person is mental. You could actually say that this team is proof that Slovaks are actually better off in the position of underdogs. As for example they struggled mightily against the teams that were underdogs when compared to Slovakia (Kazakhstan and France) and made it so far by upseting the stronger teams on paper thanks to tactics and pure heart.
    But back to the state of Slovak hockey, obviously reports about the death of Slovak hockey are overblown. There still is a number of talented youngsters who coudl eventually become NHL players (and at least some of them undoubtedly will). There´s no young Slovak NHLers right now, because we had pretty much no top end talent between the players born in the 1980s, while things have become better with the ones born in the 1990s. But we are far away from the top nations when it comes to youth hockey and the fact is that hockey is a growing sport in a number of countries who continue to improve and are catching up to us. Once again I hope that the success of this year won´t be considered as a reflection of the state of Slovak hockey but rather an impulse for people in the federation and clubs to start working with the youth.

  • I think the whole idea of hockey being better during communism is based on the fact, that during that time government spent a lot of money making our athletes be one of the best. It is kind of like China today. You can read article in the papers, now and than , how chinese children, from early age, are in the “sports school” training almost day and night to shine in the world spotlight, such as olympic games etc. It used to be like that in Czechoslovakia and Russia, government spend lot of money to develop those sports and ice hockey was one of the sports, were Czechoslovakia could shine. This isn’t true anymore, and hockey is an expensive sport, there aren’t many families who can put their children through such training. An Equipment that would be free before, now has to be purchased by parents and therefor Slovak hockey isn’t developing as quickly and successfully as it did before. But Slovakia has good sportsmen, however they aren’t consistent, we tend to underestimate underdogs.
    About slovak pessimism, I consider that slovak national sport. Slovaks are never happy and I don’t blame them. Slovakia is very corrupted country, and while in US, if you work hard and you put your heart to it, you can achieve success, it’s not the same in Slovakia. Just being hardworking is not going to get you anywhere, and I think this cruel reality left mark on Slovaks. They know that there is very little they can do, to win in this country, unless you know people and you have financial resources to bribe your wave through it.

  • I like Tatiyana’s last remark how some Slovaks are used to bribing their way through life in order to advance themselves, and that pessimism is one of Slovakia’s national past-times !!

    I suspect that most Slovakians don’t behave that way. My father didn’t. Though he was quite a pessimist; but I loved that about him ! He was subsequently more careful and diligent. It seems to me that pessimism is an all-around Slavic trait. Nothing to be ashamed of though !! It makes you guys and gals seem Tough and yet Big-Hearted !!

    First time I’ve heard that the Slovakian Hockey Team has a fatalistic attitude !! I think they have a very good chance at beating the often-fatalistic Ruskies. GO SLOVACI !!!

    The Slovak Hockey Team should (humanely) do and say and think whatever makes them feel better before the game !! POBÝTE RUSÁCI AKO DLÚHO ŽIJÚ SLOVÁCI !!!

  • Comunist era ended 20 years ago so players born then are probably still too young to play – I don’t know much about the hockey but do many 20year olds play on world championship in other teams? I guess not. Every couch wants to have skilled and experienced therefore older players on their teams.
    Since most players from most countries (except for Kazachstan maybe) are very very very good – the world’s top players – I think the games very much depend on luck.

    About pesimism – some people are pessimistic which I pretty much hate (and I avoid them), but I wouldn’t generalize whole nation according to few individuals even though they claim to know everything best. No Slovak can know that many Slovaks to have a good sample of whole nation and no scientist would consider with such ”folk wisdom” to be remotely reliable.

  • i don’t think it’s all that refined and deep.
    Slovaks are lot less tolerant than Americans of those who over promise and under deliver.

  • Starost ne radost. No matter what, things can always be worse. Pišla dupa dobie scupa, pisku povie, jetcau dupa (spelling??).
    These and other sayings I learned constantly while growing up. No question that our tendency is for the glass half-empty.

  • merry, you´re wrong with your guess about the 20year od players at the Worlds, because the answe is yes, a lot of them do- Canada had 10 players aged 22 and under, Sweden had 8 and US had 6, all put together about 60 players aged 22 and less played at the tourney, which is quite a lot considering how many players play at the WC…and you´re also wrong that every coach wants only experienced players, a good coach wants to have a mix of experience, middle aged players and upstart youngsters, because you need to have some energy with that experience (we have seen what the lack tehreof makes ast year), also experienced doesn´t equal skilled and young doesn´t equal unskilled, it´s just a belief that has been in the heads of people in Slovakia for years now for some reason, despite the fact thta our teams that have achieved the best success were quiet young (the Petrohrad silver winning team – them finishing 2nd was as surprising as this year- was about 25 on average)… also, I hate this horrible idea that luck decides anything in a hockey game, the fact that you make more or less mistakes than your opponent or that you are better or worse are not decided by luck…

  • The #1 Slovak national sport is complaining, with ice hockey a close second, I tell my American friends. Half-jokingly, of course, but the comments on pessimism and fatalism do strike home. I believe the outlook has a lot to do with history. Having been ruled, conquered, defeated, overtaken, or occupied for our entire history by other countries/nations/governments, the tendency to see only the negative on the horizon of time is perfectly understandable. Marek over at Coffee-Dumplings-Komiks captured this perfectly the other day, when he wrote that the history of Slovaks is that of a constant struggle for survival. If you know that you can be squashed at any time, you come to expect it, and the attitude extends to everyday life. The upside: everything good that happens is a pleasant surprise!

  • […] Look at the front cover of the most popular, intellectual-leaning magazine in Slovakia – Tyzden (it is perhaps akin to a TIME or Newsweek of Slovakia) a year ago, one year before the Slovak hockey team stormed ahead and captured the silver medal.  “Is Slovak Hockey Dead?” it pessimistically asks, as explained in this article on 52 Weeks in Slovakia. […]

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