Saturday, December 01, 2012

You Suck!: The Pressure to Win Immediately, Win Always, and Win Forever



NOTE: Today, as I write this blog, it was reported that Kansas City Chiefs football player, Jovan Belcher, killed his girlfriend and then turned a gun on himself at the Chiefs' training facility. He proceeded to kill himself. This is the fourth current or former NFL player to have commited suicide in the past eight months.  

Though, we do not yet know the circumstances behind this tragedy nor can we make a case for any specific factor contributing to this apparent murder-suicide, the Chiefs are 1-10 and mired in an eight-game losing streak that has been marked by devastating injuries and fan upheaval, with constant calls the past few weeks for GM Scott Pioli and Head Coach Romeo Crennel to be fired. The situation has been so bad this season that Crennel fired himself as defensive coordinator.

The Chiefs lead the league in turnovers, cannot settle on a starting quarterback and are dealing with a full-fledged fan rebellion. The Twitter account for a fan group known as Save Our Chiefs recently surpassed 80,000 followers, about 17,000 more than the announced crowd at a recent game.

With this as the back drop and lead-in to my post, I am disturbed by another (and, perhaps related) significant trend in sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers fired Mike Brown on November 9 from his position as head coach after a 1-4 start.  Under Brown, the Lakers struggled to an unacceptable 0-3 start, the first time the Lakers have done so since 1978-79, the season before Jerry Buss bought the team.

Brown began his tenure as coach at the start of the 2011-12 season, leading Los Angeles to a 41-25 record (.621 win percentage) in the lockout-shortened 66-game season. The Lakers suffered a second-round exit from the NBA playoffs in a five-game loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers were expected to make a big improvement over last year with the offseason acquisitions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Antawn Jamison.  However, Howard is getting back to normal following back surgery; while Nash has been out much of the season with an injured leg.  Jamison began the season languishing on the bench. 

Since hiring Mike D'Antoni to replace Brown, the Lakers are 3-4; not a great improvement. The Lakers do not look significantly better after the change and in some ways look worse. Though Dwight Howard is looking better, Nash is still out.  Did Brown deserve such a quick hook?     

On November 25, 2012, Gene Chisik, Head Coach of the Auburn University football team, was fired. Chisik, with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton as his quarterback, led the Tigers to the BCS national championship in 2010. However, things turned around quickly. Auburn completed its worst season in 60 years two Saturdays ago.

Auburn finished 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, its worst conference record ever. Chizik was fired immediatelyafter losing to Alabama 49-0. Auburn must buy out Chizik's contract for $7.5 million. Have Chisik's skills eroded so quickly? Is he no longer the coach he used to be? 

"I’m extremely disappointed with the way this season turned out and I apologize to the Auburn family and our team for what they have had to endure," Chizik said in a statement. He added, "When expectations are not met, I understand changes must be made."   Really?  Does Auburn deserve more? 

Three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers replaced their quarterback, Alex Smith who possessed a a league-leading 70% completion rate and a fourth-in-the-NFC 104.1 quarterback rating. Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season record, and a berth in the NFC championship game last season. He was benched for a second year QB Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion. On Sunday, with Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers were upset by the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers are 8-3-1 at this point in the season.  

Finally, the San Antonio Spurs were fined $250,000 for keeping four starters out of a scheduled game with the Miami Heat this week. The players were not only keep from playing, but sent home by the team to rest. NBA Commissioner David Stern fined the team and issued this statement: “I apologize to all N.B.A. fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Spurs' Head Coach Gregg Popovich maintained that “my priority is my basketball team and what’s best for it.” Popovich has done this before, without being fined, when he felt resting his players would be beneficial in the long run. Obviously, Stern felt that the pursuit of a win in one game was more important for the integrity of the league than for the championship pursuits of one team. 

What are we to make of these firings, benchings, and fines?   My take is that the sports world is reflecting the win now and win at all costs of our society. Despite a lack of evidence that any of these actions would be improve these teams, these decisions were made. Each decision was costly, but was made with immediate improvement as the desired outcome. None of the decisions seem to make any real difference, especially when seen in the short-run, which is why the changes were ostensibly made.

Are our expectations and standards as fans, administrators, commissioners, teams and players unrealistic?  Is our winner take all mentality all out of whack?  I think so. 

Should we strive for success and excellence?  Of course.  Should we expect maximum effort?  Surely.  But, do we deserve and demand perfection?  Is winning everything, all the time?  Our evidence and experience should tell us that we can't attain it or sustain it.  More importantly, this mindset is counterproductive, and, perhaps, unhumane. 

Exerting excessive pressure to win now, win always, win forever doesn't necessarily improve performance, in the short or long-run. More importantly, both the short- and long-range implications (selfish play, inconsistent performances, lack of teamwork, excessive emphasis on money, loyalty, drug use, cheating, etc.) are much more costly.  It's time to reflect and look closely at our values and expectations of ourselves, but more importantly, of others.

What kind of perfectionistic expecations and standards are you harboring?     

Excerpts from businessinsider.com, nytimes.com, AL.com, and aol.sportingnews.com/ 

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