Monday, August 09, 2010

Will more confidence win them more readers? (Or do they, like, need to publish a better newspaper...?) *

Although the inexorable transformation of the sports page into a psychology text has been underway for some time and is no longer news, today's edition of my local paper suggests that the process may now be complete.

I hereby give you the headlines of the three main features on Page 1 of the sports section of Monday's Morning Call:

Halladay, Phillies Show Their Grit
(describes how the Philadelphia Phillies and their top pitcher, Roy Halladay, won yesterday's game not so much with their bats, arms and gloves, but with sheer determination)

Eagles' Justice Blocks Out Negativity

(describes how Eagles' tackle Winston Justice plans to triumph this season not so much through strength and finesse, but through a positive mental attitude)

Testing Maloney's Mettle

(describes how a young gymnast is learning from an older gymnast that success in the realm is not really about technique, but about mental preparation and focus)
(In fairness, there's one more headline at the bottom of the page. It's a pure news story, however, and doesn't lend itself as easily to airy coverage.)

I've said it before on this blog, but it's been a while since I've covered the phenomenon I call Sportsthink, and we've gained many new followers in the interim, so I'll repeat: Not only does this rampant "spiritualizing" of sports impute absurd and often self-contradictory meanings to random (and largely unforeseeable/uncontrollable) events, but in an ironic way, it actually devalues the reverence for hard work and true excellence. After all, if confidence and a "positive outlook" are mostly what it takes to win, why bother wearing yourself down to the nub by practicing, practicing and practicing some more? If affirmations, not sharp-breaking curves, are what really win baseball games, then why does anyone need to work long hours with a pitching coach?

Such thinking is especially dangerous nowadays, since so many of the meta-messages from sports bleed over into society as a whole (thanks in part to the unending cavalcade of sports speakers active on the banquet circuit). This ostensible belief in the utter decisiveness of Attitude takes our collective eye off the ball, focusing our attention instead on surface attributes and other periphera.

A word to the wise: Stop thinking. Start working.

* As most of you know, despite some recent stabilizing, the newspaper industry as a whole has been on the cusp of financial ruin for a while now. But I'm sure it has nothing to do with the internet, competition from TV, or any of that. The newspaper industry just needs to be more positive about the future, is all!


Chad Hogg said...

"I'm here to tell you that the fear of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life. It flies in the faces of all these sports psychologists who say you have to let go of your fears to be successful and that negative thoughts will diminish performance. But not wanting to disappoint my parents, and later my coaches, teammates and fans, is what pushed me to be successful ... The reason nobody caught me from behind is because I ran scared. People are always surprised how insecure I was. But I was always in search of that perfect game, and I never got it. Even if I caught 10 of 12 passes, or two or three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, I would dwell on the one pass I dropped ... If I have one single regret about my career standing here today, it's that I never took the time to enjoy it.''
-- Jerry Rice, in his Hall of Fame speech Saturday night.

I am not sure what this tells you, but it may be an interesting data point.

Steve Salerno said...

CH: That's beautiful, Chad, and of course a worthy addition to the dialogue. I'd missed that and I don't know how--but I've heard similar remarks from other top athletes (though never quite that direct!) at the end of their careers. They won't say it during their careers, as such confessions would be tantamount to heresy, interpreted by all as a bold challenge to the coach's motivational authority.

I've also heard athletes say that they were finally able to reach the pinnacle of physical performance once they got to the point where mentally and emotionally, they just didn't give a damn anymore. In essence.

Jim said...

Steve, when I checked your blog today I saw the cereal bowl photo and the first thought that went through my mind was, "Wow! Steve is poking fun at the self help industry and took his morning cereal bowls and wrote cheesy sayings on them. Hahahahaha!!!!!" and the second thought was "I wonder if he used a permanent marker, and if so, if his wife yelled at him for doing so." The third thought, after looking at the picture more carefully, is "The photo quality (on a nice white backdrop and obviously professionally done) is a lot higher than what Steve would probably do on his own for a joke." Slowly I realized that maybe, just maybe, you got the photo from somewhere else, so I googled "self esteem cereal bowls" and I discovered that I live on a planet where someone can buy cheap plastic bowls, write stupid sayings on them with a Sharpe marker and sell them for $18.95 + shipping. I wish I didn't know that.

Steve Salerno said...

Jim: But truthfully now...doesn't it make you feel better just to look at those inspirational sayings? And really, isn't $18.95 + shipping a small price to pay for the unending benefits of eating your Cheerios out of such an uplifting vessel each morning?

How can you go wrong?

Steve Salerno said...

(Incidentally, what I'm saying just above isn't necessarily parody. There are people who will utter things of that ilk with a straight face...and charge a whole lot more than $18.95 plus shipping for the privilege of hearing it.)

Stever Robbins said...

Grin My first (self-published) business book was entitled It Takes a Lot More than Attitude ... to Lead a Stellar Organization precisely because I got sick and tired of hearing people talk about leadership in terms of attitude, rather than skill set. If attitude is all it takes, why in the world do we compensate leaders as if they have positions that actually require skill?

Anonymous said...

I'm starting up a church that venerates 'not giving a damn anymore,' in my humble experience the true key to freedom and happiness on this planet.

Steve Salerno said...

SR: I don't know why I let you (deftly) squeeze in any mention of your books, given the way you panned mine. ;) In fact, some would probably say (and have, now that I think of it) that I should ban you altogether, for a variety of reasons. So ye doubters out there, take Stever's presence as a token of the general openness of the climate on SHAMblog.

RevRon's Rants said...

While I'd agree with Stever that a skillset is likely the most important factor in leadership positions within an organization, the same doesn't always hold true at subordinate levels.

I was, for many years, subsidiary properties, capital assets, and buildings manager for a Raytheon company, with responsibility for all areas not covered by manufacturing, sales, and human resources. When hiring people for my maintenance department - and more so for the janitorial crew - my preference was to hire based on attitude over skillset. I figured that skills could be taught, but attitude couldn't. As it turned out, my division was the most efficient in the corporation. When I needed additional building engineers, I would transfer good workers from the manufacturing section who were facing layoffs, and orovide them with the required training/apprenticeship programs. As a result, I had a very loyal and committed workforce, comprised of workers who were eager to learn new skillsets (highly preferable to being pink-slipped).

I never sent any of my employees to "motivational" seminars or workshops, and refused to attend any myself after the first one, which was a waste if time. Attitude and motivation are important qualities IMO, but they cannot be contrived or workshopped into existence. Like respect, those qualities have to be earned and nurtured, and cannot be ingrained in someone who lacks them in the first place.

Anonymous said...

They could publish the best newspaper in world history, it wouldn't matter. Newspapers are a dying breed, Steve, haven't you heard? One more generation (if that) and they're gone.

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