Category Archives: sports
My reading material during my ski vacation last week was The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker. The book had me thinking about leadership and team work beyond the world of sports.
What makes a great leader? How to get the most out of a team?
To write the book, the founding editor of The Wall Street Journal’s sports section examined sports teams that achieved exceptional success and tried to figure out what drove the outstanding accomplishments. His findings surprised him, and me.
He found that the freakishly successful teams shared the same kind of captain, and it wasn’t the glamorous version of captain that would spring to your mind. Instead of the gregarious highly skilled aces, the flamboyant superstars or the squeaky clean idols, the captains were what he called the glue guys, or the water carriers.
- Dogged and focused to the extreme
- Aggressive players who tested the limits of the rules (and sometimes crossed them)
- Willing to do thankless jobs in the shadows
- Low-key, practical and democratic
- Able to motivate others with non-verbal cues
- Courageous and willing to stand apart if it meant upholding a strong conviction
- Ironclad controllers of emotions
His captains achieved success not through exceptionally skilled play, but by never giving up. They didn’t shun the small jobs, but instead did whatever grunt work needed to be done for the good of the team, not themselves. They didn’t deliver flowery motivational speeches, but they held people accountable by looking people in the eye.
It’s easy to quibble with the scientific method Sam Walker used to arrive at his list of exceptional teams, but with hundreds of thousands of sports teams around the world to work with he had to narrow it somehow. He almost excluded baseball which would have led me to shelve the book immediately, but—phew—baseball skimmed through his criteria sieve and I was able to carry on.
I was particularly intrigued by the idea of social loafing, an idea born out of research by Maximilien Ringelmann. Ringelmann tested the amount of effort exerted by people pulling on a rope. He started with low numbers of people and then added on. You would think that the more people pulling on a rope, the more effort would be exerted, but he found that the more people, the less effort each individual exerted. Working as a team caused people to work less strenuously than when working alone.
We’re willing to coast a little when we feel other people can carry a little of our load.
Anyone who has ever been part of a group project has seen this kind of dynamic at play. We assume that the highly skilled star players motivate teammates to work hard and try to excel at the same level, but Walker’s examination of exceptional teams seemed to indicate the opposite. Fellow team members of superstars were willing to let them carry the load.
But when less-skilled dogged captains courageously and aggressively lead a team, individual efforts around them increase too.
Who are the people in the organizations that you work or play in who never give up? Who does the grunt work for the good of the team, not themselves? Who holds you accountable by looking you in the eye?
Who are your water carriers?
I just finished reading Stacey May Fowles book, Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me. I read chapter after chapter thinking, “Yes! She gets it.
She writes about going to baseball games alone (done it), treading with reverence on the turf of the Skydome/Rogers Centre (done it), stopping at empty baseball diamonds and taking time there to meditatively soak up an atmosphere that feels sacredly church-like (done it), going to games with dad on Father’s Day (miss it), stepping out of social events to check on the score of Jays games (do it all the time), and so on. Chapter after chapter she touched on subjects I could relate to.
It’s not easy being a female baseball fan.
Many times I have been involved in baseball conversations with people and made comments about a particular game or a team or player—comments that reveal my baseball knowledge as much more than casual or superficial—only to see a look of startled re-evaluation appear on their faces.
Most people don’t expect a woman to really know the sport.
I don’t make a secret of my passion for baseball. Our son plays, so we travelled with him all over southern Ontario and the northern U.S. for years. And I often joke about how my favourite time of year is when I give my television remote a good workout by watching baseball, hockey, tennis, and curling all at the same time. It’s even part of my official biography on this site. People know this about me.
But I don’t brag about my love for baseball either. Maybe I need to start, because it’s apparent people don’t fully understand.
Last Tuesday night I hosted my book club at my house. Before the event started, I was home alone—my husband out at his usual Tuesday night tennis match. My friends wouldn’t arrive until 7:30p.m., so at 7:00 I turned on the TV thinking I could catch the first 20 minutes of the Jays game. I was annoyed to discover a 30-minute rain delay in Boston. “Great,” I muttered. “Now I won’t see any of the game.”
I stayed with the channel though, because any baseball is better than no baseball. I watched Baltimore and Texas, quite happily until my book club friends arrived. When I saw the cars pull up I left the TV on so I could peek in and check the score later in the evening when I was preparing the refreshments.
I ushered my friends in, and as we walked by the TV one of them said, “Don (my husband) must be here.”
“No,” I said. “He’s playing tennis.”
“Oh?”my friend said. “Who’s watching baseball?”
“I am,” I said.
Surprised into silence, my friends carried on into my sunroom for our book club discussion.
It struck me how my friends—who know me so well—could not believe that I would watch a game by myself, by choice. They assumed a man needed to be around to make that choice and then I would just follow along. They would certainly not guess that of all the viewing options on any given evening, baseball is my first choice. I felt just a little like I’d been caught watching porn, or something that I should feel guilty about.
I don’t feel guilty. Baseball for me is not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure.
Not everyone understands, but it’s good to know that at least Stacey May Fowles gets it.
Have you ever noticed that when a sports team celebrates a spectacular play or a big win they gather in a group and jump up and down in a rhythm that matches that of every other sports team celebrating a spectacular play or big win, no matter where or when it happens in the world?
Baseball players jumping around the walk-off home run hitter, soccer teams jumping around the penalty shot goal kicker, football linebackers jumping around the winning touchdown receiver—they all jump up and down in the same rhythm.
It’s the Big Win Beat.
April is National Poetry Month so my mind turned to rhythms, and thinking about rhythm led me to ponder baseball/soccer/football team jumpers, and sports teams made me ponder the music of the universe.
Rhythmic vibrations, like chirping crickets, cars travelling on a gravel road, cicadas piping in, cardinals calling to each other, car doors slamming, winds howling . . .
Discordant sounds we want to write out of our daily life symphony—a Sea-Doo on a quiet lake, a frantic child’s cry, bombs . . .
Do we all subconsciously live by this rhythm? Do we all adjust our actions to it? Are we picking up music from the atmosphere like the child in August Rush?
Is that what leads us to poetry?
I don’t know the answer, I’m musing so you can muse along with me—rhythmically, not discordantly.
April 27 is Poem in Your Pocket Day. People are encouraged to pick a poem, carry it with them through the day and share it with others.
Find out more here: http://poets.ca/pocketpoem/
My poem will be one written by my much-missed friend Bruce Henderson, who had to learn how important it is to receive gifts from other graciously.
GRACE OF THE GOOD GIVEE
Bring me your gifts,
I will be strong,
strong enough to take them.
Yes, I have room for your gifts,
in my hands, in my home, in my heart,
I welcome you in—to my infinite yin.
There is a time to give
and a time to get,
and every Giver needs a Good Givee.
I am ready to accept,
to receive your loving kindness;
the warm message of your gifts.
In joy we will celebrate
the power of your act.
When you reach out
I will not try to run away.
grant me the grace of the Good Givee.
©Bruce Henderson 2010
Advent. Something’s coming. Get ready.
At our house on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles during a pre-dinner ritual: candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love lit one by one in a countdown to Christmas. Most of those candle-lightings take place at our dining room table. Quiet, dignified affairs.
Not the first one.
As it happens, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important sporting event: the Grey Cup. [For non-Canadians, that is the final game to determine the championship of the Canadian Football League (CFL). ] As it happens, a group of neighbourhood friends traditionally gathers at our house to eat unhealthy food, drink beer and watch the Grey Cup game. [For non-Canadians, think Superbowl party.]
We don’t let the raucous game and the noisy gathering get in the way of our ritual. At some point in the evening—at the time it feels right—we still the TV, quiet the conversation and we take the time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship and to light the candle of Hope. Sometimes the team we’re cheering for wins and sometimes the team loses, but there is always Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready. Then it’s back to nachos, ribs, beer and raucous cheering.
The Grey Cup and the lighting of the candle of Hope have become so linked in my mind that if the CFL ever decided to change the date of the final I would have to take a moment during the game to light a candle just because. I would have to take a moment to remember, there’s always Hope.
Yesterday our hometown Ottawa REDBLACKS played in the Grey Cup. They were the underdogs, a long-shot to win against a Calgary Stampeders team that dominated the league all season. We took our quiet time to light the candle of Hope after the first quarter. Our team was ahead, but against Calgary a lead did not feel comfortable. We lit the candle.
Hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.
Against the odds the Ottawa REDBLACKS won in an overtime nail-biter. We jumped around the living room. We cheered. We blew our air horn on the street.
There’s always hope. Something’s coming. Get ready.
Just for fun, you’ll want to see these spectacular photos of the game the REDBLACKS played in the snow the previous Sunday. LIFE IN A SNOW GLOBE: EASTERN FINAL THROUGH THE LENS OF LANDON ENTWISTLE
Lesson One: The last shall be first.
For the past two decades my husband and I have spent our time and money on family, so renovations to our house didn’t make it on to our to-do list. Now that our children have fledged and left the nest, we have begun to have conversations about renovations. We have talked about our master bathroom and the kitchen. Of all the possible renovations, the bathroom in our basement would have been last on the list.
Not any more. The toilet down there sprang a leak and we enjoyed the fun of cleaning up after a significant flood. It’s almost like our toilet down there said, “Oh yeah? You think you can forget about me? I’ll show you.” So the last renovation we would have considered has now become our first. Jokes on us.
Lesson Two: 60 is the new 25
My husband celebrated his 60th birthday on the weekend. The news of this event caused many of our friends to fall into stunned silence. 60? They could not believe that a person as active and as fit as my husband could be 60. But it was true.
He puts many 25-year-olds to shame. We look around at friends of the same age and it is the same story. 60 is not the new 50, or the new 40, or even the new 30. 60 is the new 25.
Lesson Three: You never know what’s going to happen, so make room for random events. (All you non-sports fans out there, bear with me.)
My goodness, but that was a barn-burner of baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night. So many flukes! Russell Martin—a professional baseball player for more than a decade who has played in four all-star games, and won a gold glove and a silver slugger award—made a Little League mistake at a turning point in the game. The odds against a player of his calibre making a careless throw that ricochets off the bat of the player in the box are astronomical. In baseball and in life, you just never know what’s going to happen.
Lesson Four: Respect is earned.
Such strong emotions between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers on Wednesday. Intense. After the debacle of Russell Martin’s errant throw, José Bautista hit a home run to give the Blue Jays a comfortable lead. (He has a reputation for doing that, so it shouldn’t have surprised anyone.) After he hit the ball really, really far—a certain home run—he admired his work and flipped his bat. The pitcher for Texas, Sam Dyson, didn’t like this, because according to unwritten baseball “code,” batters are supposed to respect the pitcher. They aren’t supposed to watch a home run or, worse, flip their bat.
I think we’d be hard pressed to find any baseball player anywhere who would not have shown emotion in that particular circumstance. Could the Texas Rangers admit that if one of their players had hit a home run, there might have been some celebration?
And José Bautista earned his celebration. I remember when he first joined the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a question mark. No one gave him any credit. People didn’t see his potential. But he worked and worked and worked. No matter what people might think about him personally, they have to respect his hard work and his talent. He earned it.
And Sam Dyson? He responded to the circumstances poorly. He gave up a home run, and that happens to pitchers. They have to learn to wear it no matter the circumstances, and no matter what the players on the other team are doing. He didn’t. He left his mound. He taunted the batters. He accused Bautista of doing what kids would do. Instead of accepting the loss with grace, he groused about the other team, just like kids would do. He didn’t earn my respect. In baseball and in life, no matter what the “code,” respect is not automatically granted; it is earned.
The managers of baseball teams in the post-season probably don’t want players on the field to be quite as relaxed as Snoopy, but they do want players who stay calm and focused no matter what mayhem surrounds them. May the mayhem be minimal and the focus maximal.