THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
Time has passed since the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII in Arizona. However, many keep focusing on one penalty flag that was thrown towards the end of the game.
With less than two minutes left in the game, Eagles defender James Bradberry was called for a holding penalty, giving the Chiefs an additional first down that increased their chances of taking the lead with little time for the Eagles to respond. The penalty was criticized by many across the sports-talk universe and the blogosphere, but Bradberry admitted in a postgame press conference that he did commit the penalty and it was the correct call.
The excuses given by those who disagreed with the call included a lack of consistency from the officials, a lack of severity of the hold, and everything in between. Claims were made by some fans that the game was fixed so that the Chiefs would win. The streets of Philadelphia were filled with angry fans in protest of the game’s result. Regardless of the arguments made, everyone making them ignored one fact: it was the correct call, and the offender admitted it.
Unlike many other topics in the public arena where facts and opinions are commonly confused and cause constant conflict, sports align more with inconsequential “watercooler talk.” They are a common topic of entertainment that break the ice between people who wish to socialize, and yet they are worshiped like gospel and must be protected from heretics. This begs the question of why sports are so sacred to so many, leading to outcomes like the denial of a penalty to make sense of a situation.
The answer boils down to a study of projection. Fandom develops through projection: people like to be associated with winners or with other brands where a common bond exists (family, location, school, etc.), so they project themselves onto those entities (be it a person or a team). This explains why many people across the globe become fans of teams such as the New York Yankees: their brand is the winningest franchise in the history of team sports. Similarly, people born and raised in the greater New England area (or with parents who were born and raised there) are usually rooting for the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins, either due to the ties in proximity or loved ones. Along the same lines, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of any college or university (or even high school) will tend to support the athletics of said school out of a pride like the bonds caused by family or location.
As these cliques of fans develop and grow, any perceived slight against the team automatically becomes a slight against the fanbase as well. A penalty flag thrown for a foul committed by a player on the Eagles might be viewed and interpreted as an attack against everyone who roots for them. This causes defenses to go up immediately and can result in poor fan behavior.
When this phenomenon occurs, those feeling attacked immediately try to deflect the attack back onto the attacker. In other words, the best defense is a good offense. The fans who feel attacked when an official penalizes a player on their team will point the finger at the official instead of objectively considering the facts that show the player might have committed a foul. Humans tend to lack the ability to look inwards at potential shortcomings and would prefer to point out the faults of others instead.
As if the simple examination of this experience with the fan base isn’t enough, the media has developed a reputation to make these situations worse.
Consider the number of analysts, talk-show hosts, and other media members who edified and opined about the call in question against Bradberry. Many of these voices lack the experience of officiating and do not necessarily offer their take with the proper background to justify their claim as to why the call may have been incorrect, citing opinions, feelings, and other intangibles with the hope it holds up in the court of public opinion. As a result, the arguments made were tailored to conveniently forget the rule that defines a holding penalty: they ignorantly ignore the fact that it was correctly enforced as well as Bradberry’s admission that it did, in fact, occur. This amounts to a defense attorney trying to sway a jury with emotion when a smoking gun is in their midst.
With the power the media holds in our society, fans tend to be more likely to blindly believe the words of these talking heads rather than to use their own critical reasoning to draw a conclusion. At this point, projection utilizes the “fanboy” experience, as fans pick sides on the opinion with the subconscious goal of ignoring facts simply to be on the correct or winning side of a debate. The resulting effect is a populus that declares the truth to be whatever the group decides rather than what the facts state.
None of this is to say that officials don’t miss calls. Incorrect calls are made, and officials tend to lose sleep over their mistakes. But officials make the fewest mistakes out of anyone on the field, pitch, rink, or court that day. Statistically speaking, players who strike out, drop passes, and miss shots happen all the time; are these failures not mistakes? Projection due to association causes fans to ignore these mistakes but recognize the ones from the officials which are few and far between.
It's always possible that an incorrect call could change the trajectory of a game, but the odds of it being the sole fulcrum that influenced the outcome of victory versus defeat is microscopic. Those who criticize the holding penalty easily forget that the Eagles’ defense was putrid that day: out of the 23 games they played all season (from preseason through Super Bowl), they gave up more than 30 points in six of them (including the Super Bowl), winning only two of those six. Regardless of the circumstances (preseason vs. postseason, for example), it’s very difficult to win a football game when your defense gives up more than 30 points.
It’s perfectly fine to be disappointed that the Eagles lost. It’s not okay to blame the officials when it was the correct call.
By Jack Furlong
Founder, President & CEO
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since March 2020, it’s that fear is one of the most, if not the most, powerful tool in the woodshed.
The concept of fear is rooted in our human ability to sense danger and to avoid it. Ancient man would fear predators in the wilderness for the sake of survival. Presently, we can use fear in more conventional ways, like when we feel uncomfortable around the possibility of skydiving. It’s quite a reasonable barometer in these contexts.
Fear usually encompasses the unknown: we fear what we don’t know. What will happen if I approach this predator? Could I sustain injury if I skydive? Even in situations where we have reasonable security that we can predict the outcome of actions, we’re never one hundred percent sure. A parent may naturally fear his or her child going away to college due to the unknown that awaits ahead, but the parent usually comes to terms with this, perhaps drawing on his or her own experiences, and understands that, although there is no absolute guarantee of safety, the odds are that the child will be okay.
On a simpler scale, fear of the unknown may be the motivating factor for a child to resist trying a new food. Young minds may default to not liking something simply because there is no experience of it yet. If we have yet to understand something, we tend to default to a dislike of it or a fear of it.
Sometimes, fear comes from trauma. If we are bitten by a dog when we have our first experience with one, the pain caused by the physical bite may cause us to fear dogs for the remainder of our lives if we do not work to overcome the fear. If fear can manifest from both the the unknown and the experience of trauma, we can see why fear is so powerful.
Where fear becomes abusive is when our human behavior is altered beyond reason for abnormal motives, such as control, revenge, or wealth. When fear controls us, we are the prime audience for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
When the tool of fear falls into the wrong hands, it can be used in acts of poor sportsmanship. Sports teams can use fear to psychologically intimidate opponents, perhaps through embarrassment or threat of injury. Parents can use fear to try to control the actions of their children, causing the children to fear the repercussions if they do not do as the parents say. Coaches may fear their future when their job is on the line. Officials may fear the possibility of a player or coach arguing with them. The list of possibilities is endless.
If we consider the six roles discussed in my book, “On Sportsmanship: A Critical Reader and Handbook” (available now on Amazon for Kindle and in both paperback and hardcover), that encompass the first part of the text, we can see from the above examples that players, coaches, fans, parents, and officials can be affected by fear. What about the media, though?
The fact of the matter is that the media can manipulate the public through fear very easily, and that is an act of poor sportsmanship. These entities have the power to dictate to us how to feel based on what is reported, regardless of whether it is fact or not. If we are told that sports officials are bad by the media, then we can subconsciously begin to believe this. If we are told that our team’s archrival is the enemy, we may see them as opponents in a theater of war rather than on a field, court, rink, or pitch.
Not all media outlets are bad, and not all journalists are nefarious. Further, we can be our own worst enemy in terms of fear, hearing and believing only what we want and refusing to use the concepts of critical thinking and analysis to formulate new breakthrough thoughts.
Consider the path of fear that has traversed the public during this pandemic. We defaulted to fear because the virus was novel; without prior information or evidence, we assumed the worst rather than waiting to examine evidence and compare data. We feared what could happen to us if we left our homes: we didn’t know what might happen if we contracted the virus, so we forced ourselves to stay safe, especially without a cure or vaccine. We convinced ourselves that wearing multiple face coverings and social distancing would stop the virus while we diligently worked for a vaccine. What’s worse, though, is that we convinced ourselves that anything reported to us with a twist of fear had to be fact and, thus, feared.
Before the warmer weather of 2021 and the distribution of vaccines, plausible arguments could be made to support any claim on how to combat this threat; there was reasonable doubt and a lack of supporting evidence that allowed our fear to maintain its hold on us. In fact, fear spread quicker and did more damage than the virus could ever do, harming our mental states in ways that will stay with us for years, if not decades, after this story has run its course. However, we now live in a time and an environment where we have a choice. We have reached the fork in the road, to call back to our post from last month!
One path leads us to sanity. We will come to understand that we have the tools to live normal lives without fear of this virus. We have vaccines that work when we receive our full dosage and booster (not to mention that will continue to be studied since they were expedited without the examination of long-term data). If you’re not a fan of vaccines, we still have plenty of other things to help protect us, such as using good hygienic practices (washing our hands, not touching our face, etc.) and staying home when we’re sick. And we also have the medical tools to help us feel better when we are sick, either via at-home remedies or in medical facilities. We can take off the masks, throw them away, ditch the mandates, and be ourselves.
The other path leads us back to irrational fear. We can sit at home and not live our normal lives, afraid that the virus will get us if we leave the four walls that surround us. We can think that contact with anyone could lead to contracting the virus. We can think that the vaccine and all other methods of prevention and cure are simply not enough, perhaps tainted by other entities such as the government. We can wear multiple masks, believing that this piece of magic cloth has the power to prevent all illness and is the key to preserving what remains of life in this apocalyptic existence. We can never go back to the way our lives were because the fear of what if will keep us safe and prevent anything bad from happening. (Spoiler alert: said fear will not prevent bad things from happening.)
One path teaches us to fight fear the same way we fight poor sportsmanship: leading by example, empowering those who support the same ideals, and being beacons of good morals. The other path encourages fear and poor sportsmanship, promoting its growth and spread like a virus.
I know which path I’m taking. Which will you choose?
Last month, we discussed the poor behavior by players and coaches while noting the psychological aspects of the conflict. Now, in an act of therapy, let's look at the conflict that arises in the mind of the dissenting fan.
Allow me to break whatever the blog equivalent is of the fourth wall is (which barely even applies because I am transitioning from a discussion that does not involve myself to one that tells a personal narrative) as I tell a story about my experience.
One of the more difficult conflicts I experienced this past summer dealt with my personal connection to the New York Yankees as they rose to prominence with unsportsmanlike conduct being used as a bonding catalyst. Whether it was Aaron Boone's "Savages In The Box" tirade or Brett Gardner's violent attack on the dugout with his bat, the team and the fans rallied around these drive success in the old "us against the world" last stand that tends to be high-risk-high-reward.
Before September even arrived, I found myself heartbroken that my Yankees would act in such a way. I felt like the Yankees didn't care about me, a diehard fan, because this new methodology created a stronger bond among the players and the larger fan base. However, I had the ability to take a brief step back and examine the oddity of why I would feel such grief over this.
This grief seemed unfounded. Nobody died. Nobody broke up with me. However, a personal relationship significantly changed, and that's where I discovered the heart of the problem.
As fans, we form a bond with our teams and our athletes to the point where we project ourselves onto them. We identify with them. We consider ourselves part of the team. We even put ourselves in the shoes of our favorite athletes much like how we put ourselves in the shoes of our favorite superheroes. It's the adult equivalent to when we would pretend to be our favorite athlete in the backyard and play through scenarios of hitting the walk-off home run in Game 7 of the World Series.
So when the Yankees began to act this way, I was heartbroken because I saw myself as part of the team that was doing this. I felt like I was being personally attacked and offended by the people I loved (where I felt I belonged). In the fantasy world of my mind, I saw myself as yet another person in that clubhouse who put on the pinstripes each day. And now I felt like the ostracized member of the team that refused to bond, making me the outcast in the clubhouse, probably soon to be cut, traded, or just let go.
As an aside, keep in mind that the primitive mindset of the athletic culture maintains this type of idiotic bonding as a staple, even when the rest of the culture is adapting to the pampering of spoiled athletes and a more modern approach that differs from how things were in the past 50-plus years. Frankly, none of these methods, whether primitive or modern, are 100% right and have significant flaws that were never reconciled. So if a player didn't go along with whatever was happening in the clubhouse, that player was (and still can be) demoralized and outcast like a high school clique.
Regardless, what we can control is how we, the individual fans, can handle this feeling of dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, it requires us to grow up a little, which is difficult. But with a short term pain comes a long term gain.
The objective is to disassociate ourselves with our favorite teams. In turn, this may allow us to disassociate with those who do not share our opinion, much like how players and coaches have to disassociate with a call that goes against them from an umpire (as discussed last month). We can still be a fan of the team and enjoy watching or following the team, but we can do it in a way that says we are more than just a fan.
There is actually an element of empowering to this. When we identify with a team to the point of being so invested that this disappointment can occur, we limit ourselves into realizing our full potential. Each of us, as individuals, are more than just a part of a fan base. We are beautiful beings with value that goes beyond fandom and identification. This is the same psychological limiting that occurs when we identify with an organization such as a fraternity/sorority to the point of a volunteer affiliation with no tangible benefit other than just "being a part of something."
You have the ability to see yourself as more than just a blind fan. You have the ability to proclaim that you are a dissenting fan who roots for a team without endorsing a behavior. It's quite similar to the method that should be used more in politics, where you can have the opinions that align with a particular ideology without necessarily endorsing a candidate, legislation, or decisions. You don't have to be grouped into the whole.
You are beautiful.
During the course of the 2019 MLB regular season, there was an increase in poor behavior that required policing, thus drawing the ire of the public and the media. But the ire was not drawn because of the behavior, but rather the psychological projection onto those visibly doing the policing.
The most obvious example is the New York Yankees, whose culture of class that was so prominent in the days of Jeter and Rivera cannot be matched by Judge and Gregorius. The "leaders" on the team, notably manager Aaron Boone and elder statesmen CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, have led the team into being examples for kids that promote behavior that continues to divide our society and grow hatred rather than understanding. The umpires, who are the on-field police (as opposed to the league office, which is practically invisible), become the target of hatred spewed from the uneducated and primitively toxic men playing the game, and yet the umpires are gagged by the league to refrain from responding to such personal attacks.
The media perpetuates this due to their platform, mixed with their lack of research done on the subject of officiating. Not since the great Vin Scully has a broadcaster actually given the officials their due respect and silently demanded that those who listen to his voice do the same. And outside of our friends at Close Call Sports, rarely (if ever) has a journalist with prominence stepped up to the plate with the defense of the integrity of the officials.
What those who bash the umpires fail to realize is that the psychology of their words and actions speak volumes about their egos, characters, and personalities.
As Gil Imber from Close Call Sports has said in an eloquently written article (and quoted on his various audio/video posts), criticism of sports officials in a position of authority, especially in such settings with vehemence, is actually a projection of the dissatisfaction with oneself onto an innocent victim. To say, "I'm dissatisfied with this umpire," is really translated to mean, "I'm dissatisfied with myself."
Let's make a quick clarification, though. The above translation does not mean, "I disagree with this umpire." We are allowed to share a different opinion, especially if the call was incorrect. A pitch that is two tenths of an inch off the outside corner of the plate is, by rule, not a strike, regardless if it's "too close to take." But respectful disagreement can be communicated without the behavior of a petulant child.
Back to the psychological projection, though: we must also remember that the denial we may have in accepting this fact is par for the course. People are afraid to lower their defenses and be vulnerable, especially when it comes to the almost certain inner examination of one's shortcomings. If we can avoid feeling something bad, why would we put ourselves in a position to feel less than desirable emotions?
The first step to closing this division is empathy. Somebody has to extend the olive branch, and perhaps that someone is you. Can you feel empathy for the players who feel wronged, even if you don't agree with their reaction? Can you feel empathy for the umpires who are not out to be unfair towards a certain player or team? Can you feel empathy for the media members who are lost when it comes to discussing the topic?
The second step is to begin to stop identifying with your point of view or opinion on the subject. To identify with it means to be unable to separate who you are from that particular thought. When dissent occurs and it differs from our opinion, we take that other opinion personally and believe that others are out to attack us. This is what happens all too quickly on the field: players and coaches immediately believe that umpires are attacking them with their judgments and interpretations, as opposed to simply doing their job. When a player stops thinking that he has been "wronged" or personally offended by what he perceives to be a bad call, that player will stop projecting such dissatisfaction with oneself onto the entity he thinks slighted him.
The third step? Love. Sportsmanship. Practice what you preach.
Let me preface this entire post by saying this is all me. I don't intend to offend anyone with this post, but I know how sensitive some of these topics can be. As such, I would ask that anyone who has a problem with these thoughts solely look to me, not this organization.
Also, let me state that I am merely suggesting similarities with these arguments in order to make a point. I don't want to suggest that the current battles negate any previous battles, nor do I want to diminish the gravitas of our history and the pain felt by so many to this day. These discussions are meant to spark conversation, never to be divisive.
While surveying the landscape of the ridiculous hatred of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez, I noticed a trend that I probably should have noticed much earlier. Fans of opposing teams shared a bond in a mutual hatred of Hernandez. In essence, two fan bases that would normally rip each other to shreds have found a common ground of people to hate rather than each other: umpires.
It's not quite "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Maybe it's closer to the two major political parties finding common ground in agreeing on patriotism. Perhaps the better image is of two rival fans arguing with each other at the bar while watching their teams square off against one another, only to find the one place they can agree is on their hatred of the umpires calling the game.
The idea of finding common ground (or at least reducing tension) between rivals is, in theory, positive. But the method used of finding a new entity to hate together becomes faulty when said entity is innocent. It would be one thing if political parties came together to hate terrorists, which has occurred in history. Terrorists, by definition, are not people that are normally positive. (Even if they are claiming the title of "freedom fighter," the nature of the entire scenario is a bit more conflicted based on the violence.)
Officials, on the other hand, are not the same negative entity. However, based on the nature of how fan bases can agree upon such hatred, we reach the unfortunate and incorrect conclusion that officials should be the target of such disdain. This faulty logic is the type of material that leads us, as a group of people (or even a society) down the wrong path in judging a group of people improperly.
As a result, we can simplify this equation. People hate officials simply because they are officials. It is compounded by inaccurate interpretations of data rather than fully understanding rules and mechanics. Thus, it has nothing to do with actual performance nor the content of the character of each person. The official is hated because he/she wears the stripes/uniform.
If you've successfully completed a high school social studies course about the 20th century, you may have encountered this template before: people are being judged by the color of their skin, not the content of their character. Substitute "skin" with "uniform" and you'll have an accurate description of this situation.
The systematic hatred of officials (simply because they're officials) is a new type of racism. There, I said it.
Please note this has nothing to do with whether an official is of a particular race/gender/ethnicity/disability/religion/sexual orientation, etc. It is simply because the person puts on the uniform of an official and goes to work as an official that the hatred is directed at him/her.
Without going through the entire dissertation on the nature of the civil rights movement, I think it's a very basic, safe, and general summary to simply say that African Americans were disliked because they had a different skin color. People ignorantly perceived and inferred things that led to feeling slighted by the African American community.
Again, it's not an exact "copy and paste" job, but the same is happening with officials because there is an ignorance on the part of the fans. Rather than taking the time to understand the calls made by the officials based on rules and mechanics, fans just assume the officials are not only wrong, but the sworn enemy.
This ideology is perpetuated by the impressionable behavior of fans everywhere not understanding the consequences of their actions. That behavior breeds the ignorance. It is a vicious cycle that continues to create and grow an unnecessary hatred towards a group of people that have done nothing to deserve the hatred.
Now, perhaps you might suggest that a bad call by the official is what causes this to occur. Not only does MLB data show that their umpires are right more than 97% of the time when calling balls and strikes (which is higher than the 91% of the correct calls made by the computerized strike zone), but the laziness on the part of the fan to understand how and why a call is made is not excused when the officials are right more than 97% of the time. So, the majority of the "bad calls" are actually correct calls improperly judged by an uneducated fan.
But let's go deeper. Let's say that the bad call is actually incorrect and falls into that margin that is less than 3%. There are two psychological elements that are forgotten when fans are in the heat of association with a team. First, fans will forget that the officials are not actively trying to get the calls wrong. If that is ever not the case, then the situation is usually a case similar to a bribery or other legal issue, not the content of the character of the official in a vacuum. Second, fans will associate with their teams so deeply that they will assume that a bad call is a personal attack against each fan, rather than just an incorrectly adjudicated decision that only affects a game and not the realities of life and death.
Put simply, the hatred for officials has grown in the same ignorant manner as general racism, and it is perpetuated in a silent way where the overwhelming majority of people do not have the ability (or the knowledge) to stand up for the officials.
How do we solve this? Well, if we still have problems with racism in the 21st century, it stands to reason that the problem of racism against officials will also not be eliminated anytime soon. But we can hope to curb it in the small ways that we can.
Individually, it is incumbent upon all people to look inside their own heart and ask if their view on officials is appropriate. Further, the question must be asked if each person's behavior towards officials mirrors that view in a proper way.
But it also comes down to similar things that we must do to combat all racism. For example, we know that certain words/names are very racist in nature. The same holds true for officials. Terms such as "ump show" are actually very offensive because they contain the negative connotation that demeans officials who are trying to do the best job they can.
If we are serious about eliminating the unfair treatment of minorities, officials should be considered here as well. They are the minority compared to the participants, coaches, and fans, and they are treated the worst. It's not about being overly sensitive. It's about eliminating hate.
Competition tends to have a clearly defined distinction: my victory equals your failure. That is, if two parties are competing for the same thing, one will win and one will lose. And if multiple parties are competing for the same thing, one will win and many will lose.
In some respects, that's not always the case. Some competitions have multiple winners, or at least multiple parties who "make the cut." The best example I can think of in my other industry of music is getting a gig at a particular venue. Whether it is a club, concert hall, restaurant, or wherever, there are probably a limited number of available slots for an artist to perform, so the goal is to fill those slots with a variety of acts so as not to saturate the event. One musician is not necessarily going to play every Saturday night at the same restaurant; there is probably a rotation of musicians who come in over a set period of time. Therefore, if the competition is between getting the gig and not getting the gig in this case, you have a better chance of succeeding, and your success does not automatically equal the failure of someone else.
However, it is very easy to forget this. No matter the industry, our failure can easily seep into our thoughts when we see someone else succeed, especially when it has no correlation to our situation! If I see a colleague succeeding at a gig at a restaurant where I once tried to get a gig years prior, why am I jealous? That doesn't mean that I am not a successful musician! I can have tons of other gigs that allow me to perform and compensate me, but the fact that I didn't get that one gig and someone else did still irks me. These are the situations where many of us need to take the additional time to think through these thoughts and readjust our views.
If a baseball roster has 25 guys on it, then 25 guys are going to make the cut, not just one. Sure, there may be competition to earn a specific spot, but pulling the lens back will show that the example is somewhat similar to the idea above.
The point is that competition sometimes leads us to become jealous or wish even wish failure on others when it really has to bearing to our success. Our paths sometimes lead us to something greater, and we have to be open and awake to that.
We hear it all the time, whether it is in the media, from fans, or even coaches and parents yelling it at officials: one controversial call, and that official blew the game for a team.
News flash: that's false.
It's easy to pinpoint one call in a game that is the turning point and can decide the outcome of a contest. But when we do that, we are no longer admiring the proverbial forest for the trees. We delineate an entire competition down to one moment, which makes for fantastic drama, but seldom represents reality. (In fact, maybe Hollywood could learn another lesson on how to not poison us moving forward...)
Anytime there is a close call in the later stages of a game, an official has to make a split second decision, which will usually please half of the people present and upset the other half. It's not a situation that is enviable by most, including the official. After all, it's not like the official could have avoided trouble if he or she had made the opposite call: the roles would just be reversed with the upset half now happy and the happy half now upset.
But what happens when replays show us a blown call that can't be changed? Or what happens when a coach or parent (or even player) sees it one way and the official sees it differently? The common conclusion is that the official was clearly wrong and is the sole culprit for the outcome of the contest. However, the truth is the exact opposite.
During the course of any sporting event, a multitude of action will occur that can alter the balance of power defined as who is "winning." Baseball changes with each pitch. Football changes with each play from scrimmage. Tennis changes with each serve. The list goes on. Seldom does anyone realize that every single one of these actions can affect the course of a game an equal or greater amount than the call of one official at a moment that is slightly highlighted. In short, every time a coach tells me the one call I made cost his team the game, I remind myself that the team had ample opportunities to prevent me from even having to make that call. Although I take responsibility for the call, I'm not the reason that team lost.
Further, there's an even greater notion at stake that people fail to recall in these situations: great teams overcome bad calls.
The teams that win are the ones that don't stop to argue about the bad calls. The teams that win are the ones that shrug them off and overcome them to the point where the bad call didn't matter.
When a marathon runner trips during the marathon, does he or she stop to examine the spot where he or she fell? Does the runner complain to anyone and everyone about how it is the fault of the ground for causing the runner to lose time? No! The runner gets up and hurries along to make up for the lost time!
The same goes for great teams and great athletes.
I know we have bored readers with the exhaustive look at self-esteem and its relationship to competition and sportsmanship over the past few weeks. So we'll move on...slightly...
If you're looking for more material on similar subjects, check out the old book "Problem Athletes and How to Handle Them" by Bruce Ogilvie and Thomas Tutko. Although published many moons ago, there is a key point that holds true and reflects some interesting thoughts for us today.
According to their research, participants in athletics "with immense character strengths" actually tend to avoid competitive sports.
That's right. If you subscribe to this train of thought, if you see someone who does not enjoy competition (specifically athletics), that person has a lot of strength in the ol' noggin. This is an amazing thought when we consider begin to consider old phrases about how competition builds character, etc.
Along these lines, according to Ogilvie and Tutko, competition actually can fuel things such as depression, extreme stress, and the tendency to only have relatively shallow relationships. Perhaps that may be a bit obtuse, but the theory seems to hold truth.
Look, we're all going to face competition. And just because research shows something like this doesn't mean that we should give up competitive athletics. What it does mean, however, is that a more conscious understanding of how our psyche works mixed with a greater awareness of what unchecked competition can do can prevent us from heading down this dangerous path. Maybe it can help us actually indirectly build character.
I hope you enjoyed this look at self-esteem over the past few weeks. Before we wrap it up, I want to credit Alfie Cohn's book "No Contest" as the inspiration and source for much of this information. I'm sure I will continue to quote the book in future posts!
Winning has the potential to be an addiction. If we look to an alcoholic drink as something we need for a way to relax, or if we look to a snort of cocaine for a quick high, we can do the same thing when we look to winning as a way to feel good about ourselves.
The addiction to winning is probably most similar to the addiction to gambling. When we gamble, we never want to quit while we are ahead, nor do we ever think we can't win our money back when we lose. As our winnings increase, we keep rolling the dice. When we are down a significant amount, we think we are going to get on a role with the next hand of cards.
The same thing goes with winning. After we win, we want to win more. If we win a championship, we want to repeat, and we never want to walk away. If we lose, we get back out there to prove ourselves because we never give up. The cycle doesn't end.
Further, the more we reward being "number one," the more we contribute to the addiction of competition.
The problem continues when the pleasure from winning wears off faster and faster. We compete again and again searching for that thrill, only to be disappointed when we don't get it from another victory. We compare each championship to other championships and wonder why we are not as enthralled after gold medal.
The funny thing is that this phenomenon can happen in so many other places in life. I can remember walking out of a movie that absolutely blew me away to the point of obsession that the sequel was a disappointment because it didn't do the same thing to me that the first movie did. Is it fair to compare them that way? How can one movie compete with its own sequel?
Competition is a funny thing. Self-esteem should just be happy.
Remember playing "King of the Mountain" as a kid? If you never did, here's how it works: one person stands at the top of a large hill to defend it while other kids try to climb it and knock the kid at the top down the hill. Then, whoever knocks the kid down stands at the top and defends the territory like the original kid did. Frankly, it wouldn't be allowed today because it can get too physical, but you know there are kids playing it somewhere...
Competition is no different. When we reach the pinnacle of the mountain, there is always a target on our back. For teams that win championships, that target is known as "next year." The defending champions have a very small amount of time to enjoy their championship before they have to defend it. So our self-esteem might go up when we win, but it doesn't last long because we have to validate it again through the next competition.
Why, then, do we attach self-esteem to competition if we know that there will be a dip in it when the next season starts? Why do we allow our self-esteem to go up when we win if we know we have to defend it from going down again?
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.