Should of seen the cheesies.
When I was a kid, I was a fast runner. This had little to do with any inherent athletic ability, and a whole lot more to do with a gangly frame that allowed for larger strides than my diminutive-by-comparison classmates. What would take a typical twelve-year-old 100 steps could be easily accomplished by me in 75.
As such, I was invited to try out for the elementary school track team. I was a nervous wreck prior to the 100 metre dash that would decide my fate as either a future Olympic sprinter or just another schlub. After getting out of the blocks, within three steps of the starting line, I had slipped, fallen over spectacularly and taken out two other runners.
It was awful.
On the ground, with knees scraped and my head down, I heard nothing but laughter. As I looked up, I began to scan the crowd for at least one sympathetic face. As my eyes reached the two teachers in charge of this horrible track and field enterprise, I saw that they too had avoided even the slightest effort to stifle their laughter. I went home early that day because I was “sick.”
The only positive aspect found in all of this was that it happened before YouTube was accessible to cruel adolescents, and therefore the memories of my failure lasted only in the legend spun by classmates rather than a shaky video somewhere. A couple of weeks later it was forgotten by everyone, but me. I now carry this as the most memorable moment of my adolescence.
This week, on a much larger scale, there were two incidents of failure in professional sports that sparked the type of derisive laughter that sticks to a subject’s soul.
The first occurred during an NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers. With less than five minutes to play in the first half, DeAndre Jordan, received an alley-oop pass from Chris Paul that he Superman dunked over an extended Brandon Knight.
It was a phenomenal play, but a funny thing happened as a result of the powerful slam. Instead of praise being heaped upon Jordan for his defamation of physics, most of the water cooler talk and social media attention was spent on mocking Knight’s lifeless body laying on the court after being crushed by the Clippers center. More than one fake obituary appeared on websites the next day and a couple of humorous memes were created, mocking the guard who challenged Jordan to the ball.
Even Knight himself got in on the act, joking around on Twitter about a scouting report that didn’t mention lob passes being a particularly effective tactic for Los Angeles. However, watching the highlight reel dunk over and over again, I wonder what those who criticize Knight would have him do. What was the alternative? An uncontested ball right above the rim? He’s a 6’3″ guard attempting to intercept a pass to a 6’11″ center. Getting laid out on the court is probably a positive outcome for Knight in terms of probability.
A couple days later, an NHL game between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators went undecided through regulation and overtime, resulting in a shootout to decide a winner. After three rounds, neither team had come out ahead. Looking to break the stalemate, Senators left winger Kaspars Daugavins skated to center ice, spiked the toe of his stick on the black rubber puck and skated toward the Bruins netminder, stickhandling in an incredibly unorthodox manner. With the puck attached to the tip of his stick, Daugavins attempted a spin-o-rama that was only stopped by the outstretched skate of Tuuka Rask. From the toe of the shooter’s stick to the toe of the goalie’s skate, the puck was kept out of the net.
Hockey players miss out on shootout attempts all of the time. In fact, since shootouts were introduced as a means of deciding regular season games tied after overtime, the success rate for shooters has hovered around 33%. Players are far more likely to fail than succeed.
However, Daugavins was harshly mocked the next day for attaining the same result as 67% of shooters, simply because he tried a technique that was different from most failed attempts. Aside from hockey purists and misanthropic fans voicing their displeasure, Boston forward David Krejci, who ended up scoring the winning goal on the next attempt, told a reporter that he wasn’t impressed.
I wouldn’t like it if someone on my team tried that move.
The sentiment matched those expressed by obnoxious sports columnists from around North America. The worst of which claimed that the unconventional approach cost Ottawa the game.
After his miss or Rask’s save, whichever way you look at it, Boston went on to score their (conventional) penalty shot, so Daugavins’ flamboyant attempt came at a steep price.
Yesterday, I suggested that sports have the capability to offer us more than a meager distraction. We can learn things from the games that we vicariously enjoy. Such a lesson is provided, not only by the actions of Knight and Daugavins, but also the reaction that those actions elicited.
In both instances, an athlete attempted an unlikely solution to a problem that had a very likely outcome. Little other than dignity was lost, but to learn about it from some, it was a massive failure. This is a dangerous attitude that one runs into frequently in sports. The result of which is land not fertile for innovation.
The vicious reaction to out-of-the-ordinary attempts is why we still see baseball managers calling for sacrifice bunts at the most inopportune times, why football coaches use their special teams for punts way more than they should and why soccer managers will try to “park the bus” when they’re up by a goal late in a match. The ire such actions receive doesn’t just come from fans or reporters, but actual players and industry people whose job it is to improve organizations.
The failures of Knight and Daugavins aren’t like a twelve year old slipping during a track meet. They’re honorable failings. They’re the result of a calculated risk, taken by an individual hoping to succeed in a situation where success isn’t very probable. In this manner, failure is a good sign. It signifies that an athlete is taking an active approach to problem solving, and not settling for the status quo.
In this day and age, intangibles are often dismissed in the face of analytics when it comes to talent evaluation. That’s a good thing, a positive step forward. However, it’s doubtful that what we refer to as intangibles in sports will ever go gently into the good night. For the sake of roster construction, a player who is able to quickly assess a situation and be creative enough with their skill to attempt something as unorthodox as to have never been tried before is exactly the type of athlete I’d like to have on my team.
In other words, “bring me your failures” could be the cry of the successful.