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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The secret of sports

Throughout The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons writes repeatedly about The Secret, and identifies specific NBA teams like the Bad Boys Pistons, the Russell Celtics or the Duncan Spurs that knew it and gained success by it.

In recent weeks, I've seen the same thing on the soccer field with my veterans team. My first two years, we were the champions, I was the number five striker, and we simply overwhelmed our opponents by scoring five or six goals almost every single game. But then age and injury began to strike, and at one point, I ended up the number two striker for an entire season, and when the number one striker went out, found myself trying to carry the scoring load up front on my own.

We brought in a number of new players, but despite them being quite skilled, we found ourselves not only being beaten by the best teams in the league, but unable to defeat lesser teams we should have been able to beat without any trouble.

At the beginning of the spring season, things looked really bad as our second-best player and new captain had to have surgery on his hand that rendered him hors de combat for the entire season. Not only that, but our best player has been injured and we've only gotten one-half out of him.

And yet, somehow we managed to not only win our local derby two weeks ago, but trounce them 3-0, with all three goals coming in the first half. Last night, we were playing the league leaders, who feature one former international and a fast-paced, highly skilled attack that has scored twice as many goals as we have this year.

But what is different now is that we have a group of players who don't quit and who don't give up on each other. We went down 1-0, then 2-1, and were still down 2-1 when I got in at halftime. Their defense had been stifling our new top striker, who'd recently come up from the first team, but once I scared them with an otherwise useless run or two, they started putting two on me and giving the new guy more room to work. I did very little but pull defenders away from him, but that was enough to help him level the game at 2-2.

In back, the defenders were just about killing themselves as well as the faster, better strikers and midfielders from the other side. They gave up two penalties, but our keeper made brilliant saves on both of them to keep us in the game. I stole a ball from a defender, but then didn't see a wide-open midfielder to my left, and passed instead to my off-side fellow striker, ruining what should have been an excellent chance. Overall, it was a pretty poor game for me... except on this team, everyone keeps encouraging you to keep running, keep working, keep trying, keep doing your job. My job isn't to score, or even to make assists, my job is to stretch the field, occupy the defense, and create space for our better players.

So, despite all my screwups, our right wing didn't hesitate to put a long through ball for me towards the corner with only a minute or two left. And I didn't give up when the defender tried to obstruct me as I started to go by him, as when he put his arm across my chest, I simply pulled it behind me and fought my way past him. When I broke free, the referee finally blew his whistle and correctly called the defender for the initial foul, which he probably wouldn't have done if I'd backed down. The right wing stepped up and put a beautiful 25-meter free kick in the upper corner. 3-2. Game over.

There was no way we should have won that game. They were absolutely the better team in at least 8 of the 11 positions. And they play together well too; there were several strings of 10+ passes where no one on our team even touched the ball. But they have too many skilled technicians and not enough petty role players. The secret of sports is that the team where everyone accepts his role and throws himself into it 100 percent is usually going to beat the better team where the pecking order and the responsibilities are not as firmly established.

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43 Comments:

Blogger Da_Truth_Hurts May 14, 2015 9:23 AM  

Off-Topic:

Vox, Galactic Civilizations 3 was released today. Everyone should look into this strategy game, even if just for the following reason:

"Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock [company that made this game] was victim of corrupt journalism when a false claim of sexual harassment was spread on the internet."

I enjoyed the 2nd installment and this one looks to be getting solid reviews. Support developers that don't back down from SJWs. http://store.steampowered.com/app/226860/

Blogger Josh May 14, 2015 9:26 AM  

except on this team, everyone keeps encouraging you to keep running, keep working, keep trying, keep doing your job.

It's amazing what can happen if you just don't give up.

Blogger Keef May 14, 2015 9:26 AM  

I couldn't agree more. Championships often come down to role players and everyone understanding how they add value on their particular team.

Everyone making a conscience effort to play together makes finding an identity easier and can leverage a team to be better than their individual parts. Those teams are fun to play on.

Anonymous PSacramento May 14, 2015 9:39 AM  

Championship teams come in two forms:
An elite player surround by very good players ( 86 Argentina for example) or a team of very good players with solid strategy.
Sure there are times you can have a star studded team ( 80's lakers for example).
The ONE factor is always a very good strategy to take advantage of a teams strengths and, arguably, more than the other teams weaknesses.

Blogger Student in Blue May 14, 2015 9:39 AM  

The secret of sports is that the team where everyone accepts his role and throws himself into it 100 percent is usually going to beat the better team where the pecking order and the responsibilities are not as firmly established.

It pretty much goes without saying, but it holds true for pretty much everything that requires cooperation and not just sports.

Anonymous Quartermaster May 14, 2015 9:42 AM  

The Apostle Paul talks about the members of the body of Christ and their roles. Works in secular matters as well.

Blogger bob k. mando May 14, 2015 9:45 AM  

the US vs Portugal game was a good example of this, especially that extra time goal.

the US defenders all went to sleep and stopped paying attention to their responsibility ( defending the outlet pass ) and started fixating on the ball handler, even though he was already covered. they turned a 3 v 1 defensive advantage into an opponents goal.

took an easy win and turned it into a tie.

now, this made no difference in the final group rankings, but it certainly did make clear that the US didn't really belong at the top level of international play.

Blogger JDC May 14, 2015 9:49 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger JDC May 14, 2015 9:51 AM  

For precedent see Wisconson v. Kentucky.

Blogger Nate May 14, 2015 9:56 AM  

Sure doesn't seem to be working out that way for the Griz against Golden State. Of course its hard to call them the grizz with their best defender out.

Anonymous Huckleberry May 14, 2015 10:14 AM  

Of course.
Conversely there's nothing that will kill your team's morale more thoroughly than having the other team beat and realizing that to a man, none of them will accept it and they just keep scrapping away.

Anonymous Geoff May 14, 2015 10:17 AM  

Same goes for hockey. In the days before the NHL salary cap, the big money teams like the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs would spend huge money filling their teams with so-called "superstars" to little avail. I think the Rangers won just one Stanley Cup during the big money era of the 80's and 90's, and the Leafs won dick.

Good role players are key.

Blogger buzzardist May 14, 2015 10:35 AM  

I am sure that people can come up with as many counter-examples to Vox's dictum as examples for it, but that ability to play roles on a team was always one of the things that impressed me about the Bulls in the Jordan years. Pippen's job was to be a second scoring threat who could pull some of the pressure away from Jordan. Kerr's job was to shoot three-pointers, forcing defenders to defend the perimeter instead of just clog the lanes. When Rodman joined the team, he was there essentially just to rebound and get physical under the basket. I forget their names, but for a few years the Bulls had their three-headed monster of three moderately talented big men who essentially just needed to guard other teams' big men. It worked because everyone knew that Jordan was there to win games, and every role on the team was built around allowing Jordan to be Jordan.

Barcelona with Messi works well for much the same reason. Argentina with Messi doesn't work for much the same reason. Argentine coaches try to push Messi into roles that don't suit him, and they don't clearly define what other teammates ought to do in order to allow Messi to be productive. One or two other strikers look like they just want to grab some glory, while the mid-fielders seem uncertain what to do, except maybe just to stand back and hope that Messi does something all on his own. Nobody really knows their roles, and Argentina loses games that they could win or even ought to win as a result.

This, along with the mistake of buying superstars just as they've peaked so that the team only ever has most of them in their declines, is also why I think the Yankees tend to underperform. Given the size of their payroll, the Yankees should win a lot more than they do. And baseball is a sport that already has pretty carefully defined roles on the field. But even in a sport like baseball, if players aren't deployed in a complementary manner so that they know and can execute their specific roles, the team never amounts to more than a bunch of stars struggling as much against each other as against the opposing team.

Blogger Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus May 14, 2015 10:45 AM  

Seriously - the secret to being good at sports is to have game.

Blogger Russell (106) May 14, 2015 11:01 AM  

Usually when people are talking about soccer I think of Kent Brockman during the Simpsons soccer game, but Vox makes it sound almost interesting.

Anonymous MendoScot May 14, 2015 11:02 AM  

I think this explains the phenomenal success of the German national team over the decades (I first saw them play in the mid '60s). Even when they haven't had spectacular players, the sheer discipline of the team as a whole meant that they would always create chances, often put them away, and could maintain a 1 goal lead for 90 minutes.

Fiddles with VFM secret decoder ring ... message received, your Obsidianess!

Anonymous Jack Amok May 14, 2015 11:05 AM  

...everyone keeps encouraging you to keep running, keep working, keep trying, keep doing your job.

I find this almost poetic this morning.

Blogger Aquila Aquilonis May 14, 2015 11:23 AM  

I'm surprised that hockey doesn't get many mentions here. It seems to be the most Ilkish of all the sports.

Anonymous BigGaySteve May 14, 2015 11:33 AM  

Johns Hopkins realized that the secret to keeping their ER flowing faster was not necessarily hiring more agency nurses at twice + the pay of their staff but not having their janitorial staff suck. They found a major turn around time delay was getting rooms cleaned for the next patient, I guess you have to pay cleaning ladies more to work in a place that nurses get raped in the parking lot as well. Maybe faster is the wrong word, but most cost efficient speed bonus.

Doesn't Italy have the kind of soccer that lets people punch each other without fouling? I originally thought this was going to be covering performance enhancing drugs.

Anonymous Hammer6_Actual May 14, 2015 11:37 AM  

I played on our ship's soccer team in the Pacific, and the league was dominated by a repair facility(SIMA) that had a mix of speed players and enormous Samoans who would literally run other players down. (you had to work to earn a card in these games).

We were a scrappy team who played well together, and just loved to get off the ship and play soccer. We had a fearless goalie, and a couple of above average attackers, but were otherwise thoroughly mediocre.

We had only heard about them until we drew them in the tournament first round, and we were completely outclassed, but just wouldn't give up. We kept it close and lost 3-2; it should have been far worse.

We came up the losers bracket, and eventually faced them for the championship game. We decided that a big machinist mate and I would would move up to midfield and actively engage the Samoans. I have never been able to sprint for sh!t, but I love contact, so I ran through ball contact into the Samoans multiple times disrupting their "Lead with Tanks" assaults, and when our attackers caught their midfielders up too far, we started running into their midfielders and spreading the love.

It was close, but their team broke once their elite players started b!tching out team mates because we had disrupted their style of play. The last 15 minutes of that game was some of the most fun I ever had playing soccer, and our two best attackers broke through late and scored the winning goal.

It wasn't pretty from a skills perspective, and we were bruised, bleeding mess, but we were the first team in years to beat the mighty SIMA. That day, we were the better team.

Anonymous NorthernHamlet May 14, 2015 11:37 AM  

The secret of sports is that the team where everyone accepts his role and throws himself into it 100 percent is usually going to beat the better team where the pecking order and the responsibilities are not as firmly established.

This is true in business too. I can't tell you how many times I've seen employees purposefully cause unseen issues in a business cycle or generally not give 100% because they have no respect for a manager that won't define the employees role.

It comes down to someone willing to do the hard thing and earn their respect... And then be willing to lead and define. In the business world, too many people lack this skill or the balls to follow through with it.

Anonymous Huckleberry -- est. 1977 May 14, 2015 11:38 AM  

I'm surprised that hockey doesn't get many mentions here. It seems to be the most Ilkish of all the sports

It does now and again.
Some of us are rabid, some of us have played the game since we toddlers.
But mostly the Ilk are football and eurotrash football.

Blogger CarpeOro May 14, 2015 11:47 AM  

"I'm surprised that hockey doesn't get many mentions here. It seems to be the most Ilkish of all the sports."

I don't care if there are teams in Florida and California, hockey will always remain a primarily northern sport. If you can't go down to the lake during the winter and play a pickup game it doesn't seep into your soul. It just doesn't translate for people that can only go to an ice rink to even skate.

Speaking as an exile from Hockey Town, hopefully returning to Michigan soon (can't root for the Blackhawks even if I have been here most of the time since they came under new ownership and were revitalized).

Anonymous Huckleberry -- est. 1977 May 14, 2015 11:52 AM  

Given the size of their payroll, the Yankees should win a lot more than they do. And baseball is a sport that already has pretty carefully defined roles on the field

The thing with baseball is that the kind of team that can grind out a 162-game season winning an average of 6 for every 10 games is usually the polar opposite of a team that can then enter the playoffs and overwhelm opponents in several short series.
It'd be like telling the winner of a marathon "good job, now go run some 100m sprints and win all of those for the championship."

Blogger RobertT May 14, 2015 11:57 AM  

" But what is different now is that we have a group of players who don't quit and who don't give up on each other."

This exactly what John Elway is trying to do with the Denver Broncos this year. And also why John Fox, despite his decent track record, is no longer coach of the Broncos. Let's hope it translates to the NFL.

Blogger Nate May 14, 2015 11:58 AM  

"Some of us are rabid, some of us have played the game since we toddlers.
But mostly the Ilk are football and eurotrash football."

hey... hockey is more popular in the south than many realize. Take the average redneck to an NHL game.. and most of the time... he's becoming a fan.

Blogger Daniel May 14, 2015 12:08 PM  

Hockey is an interesting game, a passionate game, a great game. It is also like Fight Club. You don't talk about it...at least not much. Part of it is because it is 80% scrap or bottle, part of it is because all a hockey fan has to do is say "Hit Someone," or "Great One" or "Herbie" and grown men will nod their heads, get choked up or take a drink. It is a game that unlocks memory in very few words.

Blogger CarpeOro May 14, 2015 12:13 PM  

My last recollection of being involved in something of this nature was in the military. My training unit had at best average athletes. What we appeared to have however, was a set of individuals with better over all discipline. Being part of training, the series of different games were geared more toward that aspect, which I don't think the others realized or perhaps they were unable to overcome the reflexive actions that will cause a more athletic team to lose. While this doesn't translate to normal sports entirely, I do seem to recall the "Fab Five" from Michigan had tons of talent but failed to win the championship because they almost no discipline. No NCAA championships. I don't follow basketball much, but I marked that as the beginning of the disintegration of the basketball program there.

Anonymous Jack Amok May 14, 2015 12:14 PM  

Hockey is great, but it's easier to be a fan of something you played as a kid and I doubt most of us grew up with an ice rink. Nowadays they're more common, but they were pretty damn exotic venues when I was a kid (of course, that was just after the last ice age ended, so maybe we were less enthusiastic about the cold).

Anonymous Bgs May 14, 2015 12:18 PM  

Take the average redneck to an NHL game..

Basketball, soccer, lacrosse and Hockey are all basically the same game, if someone understands one you can explain the others to them easily, and adapt strategies from one to another. What is interesting is that the demographics of the sports change based on how important short distance run times are vs. upper body strength.

Anonymous wEz May 14, 2015 12:32 PM  

Vox, I wiish we had you and your track background on our masl team. One constant Ive learned throughout my playing years is that I'd easily rather have a less talented, high-effort player that can run all day and is tenacious, then a highly skilled, lazy player who picks his moments of technical brilliance. I fall in the latter category, so having more of the high energy, effort guys, really suits my game and allows me to be more of a niche player. Subsequently, its either feast or famine depending upon the team I'm on.

Anonymous Geoff May 14, 2015 12:45 PM  

"Hockey seems to be the most Ilkish of all the sports"

You mean the most white? Haha, just kidding. I know what you mean but on a serious note, hockey may not remain Ilkish for long. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the SJWs (mainly feminists) have recently been attempting to infiltrate this sport.

Nothing is safe.

Anonymous joe doakes May 14, 2015 1:14 PM  

You know, you're a better writer than you give yourself credit for. You made that game summary interesting and I don't even like soccer. Nice job.

Anonymous David-093 May 14, 2015 1:16 PM  

"hey... hockey is more popular in the south than many realize. Take the average redneck to an NHL game.. and most of the time... he's becoming a fan."

Here in NC it's gotten absurdly popular. Not football popular yet, but it's getting big.

Blogger J Van Stry May 14, 2015 2:20 PM  

An old friend of mine's favorite comment about the Yankee's Baseball Team when they were losing was 'They're a wonderful collection of talented individuals'.

Blogger CarpeOro May 14, 2015 2:24 PM  

"Here in NC it's gotten absurdly popular. Not football popular yet, but it's getting big."

While as mentioned above there are a number of similarities between hockey, basketball, lacrosse and soccer, there is no competition between them for speed of play. Hockey wins hands down. Sure, smaller playing area is part of it, but don't forget hockey also has substitutions while play is going on. With three rotating groups per team the energy and speed levels are kept high also.
Not to mention checking and fights. You can't be playing hockey and have a low level of energy.

Anonymous RJ May 14, 2015 3:40 PM  

Sure there are times you can have a star studded team ( 80's lakers for example).

Those Lakers teams also had guys willing to do the dirty work (like Kurt Rambis). So did the Celtics and 76ers at that time. Not many people remember Cornbread Maxwell, ML Carr, or Mark Iavaroni but they were essential to their teams winning NBA titles. Heck, Maxwell (not Bird, McHale, or Parrish) was the MVP of the 1981 Finals.

@buzzardist: Luc Longley and Bill Cartwright both played their roles to perfection, or Jordan wouldn't have won 6 rings. And the Bulls didn't start winning until Jordan understood that the role players were just as important as he was to the team's success.

This is true in business too. I can't tell you how many times I've seen employees purposefully cause unseen issues in a business cycle or generally not give 100% because they have no respect for a manager that won't define the employees role.

Women ruin everything.

hey... hockey is more popular in the south than many realize. Take the average redneck to an NHL game.. and most of the time... he's becoming a fan.

Once Southerners see how physical the game is, they tend to love it. It doesn't hurt that hockey is the only sport where you don't get thrown out of the game for fighting. You just get a five-minute timeout.

Blogger JRR May 14, 2015 7:37 PM  

I stopped reading when he mentioned soccer. I think he was actually calling it a sport, lol.

Anonymous Donn #0114 May 14, 2015 7:53 PM  

Used to take our kids to hockey games. When my oldest was six or so we took him to his first game. There was a 23 minute fight and blood all over the ice. He loved it.

Blogger Cuca Culpa May 14, 2015 8:52 PM  

Geoff: couldn't agree more. Now Harrold Ballard is replaced by the cable company everyone hates.

80's Oilers too: Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Fuhr and Coffey knew their roles and got things done.

Golf season started for me early, though. Habs are out. :(

Blogger Cuca Culpa May 14, 2015 9:03 PM  

You mean the most white?

No one was impressed when PK Subban was given a hard time in Boston yast year.

Maybe it's Montreal fans. As my hipster father always reminds me, he had Montreal Royals season tickets and saw Jackie Robinson play before it was cool. :-)

(Oh, he gets GamerGate too because it's identical to the past forty years of SJWish language bullshit in Quebec, although I never heard 'francophobia' much... but plenty of maudit anglais...)

Anonymous Geoff May 14, 2015 10:04 PM  

CC, my condolences re the Habs. I appreciate PK's passion but I think it's time to admit that he's more flash than substance. The playoffs separate the men from the boys and PK has proven to be the latter. He just isn't an effective playoff performer.

Regarding the SJWs in Quebec, I liked the Charter of Values that was proposed a few years ago by the "nationalist" Parti Quebequois. Among other things, it would have banned the Niquab. Although the other party won, there does appear to a growing backlash against the SJW groupthink in Quebec, as there is elsewhere.

Anonymous Fp May 15, 2015 2:40 AM  

"The secret of teamwork is where everyone accepts his role and throws himself into it 100 percent is usually going to beat the better team where the pecking order and the responsibilities are not as firmly established."

Fixed.

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