THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Sports Psychology is a subject that can easily be misconstrued. Heck, psychology is a subject that is still misconstrued. There is still a faction of people that hear psychology with a bad connotation, completely ignorant to the fact that it is a valuable field of science that can benefit every human.
More athletes than we realize probably suffer from some sort of mental "game" that affects their on-field performance from time to time. We only see them through the television set as entertainers, so it's easy to miss the fact that humans are playing these games, not robots. In a recent article by Megan Ryan for the Star Tribune, a few cases were examined of just that: professionals who were suffering, only to find some help that turned their game around.
Baseball players, hockey players, and basketball players are just a sample of the professional athletes who work on their mental game beyond what we just think (such as game focus and planning). They focus on their fear of failure, the fight/flight/freeze reaction, and the burdens they each may be carrying with them from their past. These factors can be the difference between balls and strikes, baskets made and missed, and pucks that may or may not find the back of the net, even when the burden may rest miles away from the field.
And yet, some teams still don't employ professionals to handle this type of issue (or at least contract them to help on an as-needed basis). Is it due to the fear these athletes may have in being chastised for admitting their faults or shortcomings? Is it a masculinity issue? Or are they afraid they may lose their jobs?
We may be a far way away from some major breakthroughs in this field, but we've made some significant strides thus far. It would be a shame to refuse to accept these medical findings as valid and important in our athletic journeys.
Discussing anything regarding politics is usually well beyond the scope of this entire organization. However, on occasion, if something political crosses into the world of competition and sportsmanship, we have to take the opportunity to address it since we spend so much time on the subject.
For example, we tackled the New Jersey legislation regarding high school "super teams" in the first episode of our podcast for 2018. The legislation specifically dealt with fair play and athletic competition in a manner that applied to our mission, so it felt right to discuss it.
We also tackled the 2016 Presidential Election because of the poor sportsmanship that accompanied such a competition. It may not have been an athletic competition, but it was the perfect example of how a contest/competition outside of the world of sports operates and how our message can apply.
Towards the end of 2017, there was another incident where something didn't feel quite right.
Senator John McCain was in for the fight of his life due to a battle with brain cancer. His daughter, Meghan McCain, took to Twitter to thank people for their thoughts and prayers during such a trying time on their family. The problem was that there were some responses to those Tweets that didn't quite understand the situation.
Many people took this opportunity to instead criticize Meghan and her family for their politics, practically kicking Sen. McCain while he was down. It was sad to see people think that this was the proper time and place to say and post things that, to them, was probably the product of karma or hypocrisy.
The fact of the matter is that good sportsmanship also consists of knowing when the competition needs to be put on hold during something more important. It's perfectly fine if you disagree with the McCain family politics. That is part of the beauty of the United States. But consider the golden rule: would you want people berating you and your family if you or someone you love is fighting for his or her life?
We've all been there. We've all reacted the same way. And that's perfectly okay.
I'm talking about when you become a bench player...a reserve player...a role player...a member of the ensemble cast/chorus...
Okay, you get the point. But one of the toughest things with which we each must deal at some point in our lives is playing a part of the supporting cast in some operation, especially when we feel we have the talent to be the lead.
In sports, it happens all too frequently. You can only have so many starting players, so a platoon of reserves are kept on the sidelines in case of injury or a specific circumstance that requires a different player.
But it can happen in many other areas of life, too. Perhaps you were picked to play 3rd trumpet instead of 1st. Maybe you were cast as a supporting character with few lines in the play. Or maybe you were just glanced over for that promotion you deserved at your company.
If you heard our earlier episode on our podcast "How You Play The Game," you know exactly what I mean.
The first thing to note in these situations is that it is completely natural to feel all the emotions associated with loss. If you're disappointed, angry, frustrated, or feeling any sort of grief, don't fight it! When you suppress those emotions, they come back later in an even bigger (and more detrimental) way.
(Side note: if you know someone who is going through this, sympathy and empathy are key. Don't try to offer an explanation. Just be there for your grieving friend.)
The next thing to examine (when you're ready) is how you can still play an important part in your team's success. You may have to "mute" the micro to look at the macro, i.e. put your current feelings on hold to look at the big picture. Sometimes, you have to suffer through something unfair to be rewarded later.
The final thing to remember is that all of these situations have open endings. There's no magic word to solve them. They can go in any direction, and you have to be ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Maybe the starting quarterback gets injured in the first game and it's up to you to carry the team for the rest of the year. Maybe the lead in the play becomes sick and you have to step in.
If you can, try to remember that all of these experiences can teach us the greater lesson of how a team succeeds together. The last guy to make the team can play an equal part in the team's success with encouragement, assistance, and some truncated playing time. Just because you're a small cog in the machine doesn't mean you don't help the machine work.
You may have heard an earlier episode of our podcast, "How You Play The Game," (available on iTunes and PodBean) discuss the topic of trash-talking. This post follows up on that with a brief examination of a study that explains how it doesn't always work out the way you think it will!
Professors Jeremy Yip and Maurice Schweitzer (Wharton) took the time to examine trash-talking and its scientific effects in certain situations. The premise to "conceptualize trash-talking as competitive incivility" led to some expected results, frequently noting that the targets of trash-talking not only become very motivated (usually to win or succeed), but that sometimes they become so motivated that they're likely to engage in unethical behavior to win. Under this premise, trash-talking becomes a high-risk gamble by the talker: whereas the hope is that the method "gets into the head" of the talkee and gives an advantage to the talker, success is not only not guaranteed, but the talkee may look to do whatever it takes to make the talker lose, even if that means enacting some sort of harm on the talker. Their motivation is to see the talker lose rather than see their own rewards of victory.
In short, trash-talkers are now responsible for boosting their opponent's motivation and performance, thereby facilitating their own demise within the competition.
Other smaller points made within the study show that creative tasks (as opposed to constructive tasks) are actually completely disrupted and never fully realized as a result of trash-talking. Whereas solving a math problem that only has one concrete answer is considered constructive, creating a piece of art or another project where success is more in the eye of the beholder is creative, and therefore the real victim in situations with trash-talking.
Trash-talking also exacerbates conflict and promotes unhealthy rivalries, which can lead to other competitive behavior that has the potential to be detrimental. Consider the trash-talking that goes on between rival college football fans. The rivalry that brews as a result of such a tactic can lead to unimaginable and ridiculous conflict, rather than seeing someone for his/her character and not judging that person based on their team affiliation.
All in all, is the risk really worth the reward with trash-talking?
There's an old saying in officiating: "Remember, they're not your friends."
However, an article published last year in Referee magazine provoked some thought on the relationships officials have with players and coaches.
There's a certain mindset that sometimes goes into the relationship between officials and others in the arena of competition. Usually, it is akin to a level of animosity that broods a contemptible relationship, almost as if to shift attention from the relationship between two competing entities to a competitive nature between one of those entities and the officials on the contest. In other words, a team of 9 baseball players aren't competing with another 9 players in a different uniform, but rather the guys on the field in black/blue who are calling ball/strike, fair/foul, and safe/out.
In order for that type of a harsh relationship to maintain any sort of sustainability, it must be fed by all the necessary parties creating it. Therefore, if one party stops feeding it, it will cease to exist (or at least falter to the point of eventually not working as well).
Case in point: if an official makes a conscious effort to be more respectful and have a normal professional relationship with others, the chances of things going well increase. Obviously, it's not a fool-proof solution; there will always be situations where idiots make the game difficult. But tipping the scales in your favor can never hurt.
It's as easy as greeting people with a smile and a firm handshake. Rather than being defensive off the bat, understand that knowing how to talk to people and choosing the proper attitude has the power to reform the tone of a conversation and a relationship. Respecting people and eliminating "attitude" eliminates the potential for conflict. Even if there is a questionable call (or a blown call), choosing the proper words and approach can be the difference between the issue being dropped immediately and the coach being on you until you reach the parking lot.
By contrast, officials who walk on the field with clout and a bloated ego leading the way can immediately cause coaches and players to question their authority, especially in a day and age where our youth have the potential to be more belligerent and less respectful of others. An official who thinks that "this is my field and I'm just letting these kids play on it" is bound to have trouble find him/her, whereas an official who is ready to provide a quality service of officiating a game and making sure that they do everything they can to provide the best possible experience for the kids involved is more likely to walk off the field with the respect of the coaches, players, and fans.
In fact, when officials do the latter, watch what happens when those officials return to the field to see one or both of those teams again. Coaches may suddenly feel at ease knowing the game is in good hands with you at the helm!
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.