Thursday, January 15, 2009

126. Win at all costs, cost too much

Many have heard about the Texas girls high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0. For most it was not just that they won by that score, though the score says it all, but how they won-purposely running up the score by maintaining a pressure defense and shooting three-pointers until they reached the 100 point mark.

The Covenant School beat Dallas Academy, which is a very small private school of only 20 girls-eight of which play on the basketball team. They had not won a game in four years and their school specialized in those with learning disabilities. Later, recognizing the classless debacle, The Covenant School offered to forfeit the game to the Dallas Academy.

What was perhaps more disappointing after reading the story was some of the comments left on the Internet. Now I know people write stupid stuff in anonymity often just trying to incite conversation, but still, I was disturbed to see that many people defended The Covenant School in the "spirit of competition."

‘Robby383' quoted Mike Ditka, "Winners try harder...losers make excuses." ‘DefianceDefiant' said, "Welcome to the real world," in all caps. ‘Sbal" wrote, "This is nuts. The Covenant School won fair and square. You are teaching students not to take pride in their accomplishments (pride is not always a sin). You are also teaching Dallas students that if they pout enough someone will feel sorry for them and give them their way. . . .Grow up!" The ignorance continued from ‘KKSUCAT3,' "in no way shape or form should they apologize if anybody should apologize it should be the other schools coach for not having his team ready."

There was more, plenty more, as many turned this into a liberal/capitalism issue. And to be fair, there were many that argued against the unsportsmanlike behavior. Some even recognized the hypocrisy of a Christian school needlessly embarrassing a far inferior opponent. However, the unscientific poll on the website only registered a 52 to 48 percent difference in those that thought The Covenant School should not have to forfeit, because "all they did was play hard."

I certainly place a high value on playing hard, and you can include working hard and studying hard as well. I am also very competitive; someone that hates losing more than I like winning. However, I place a high value on class and integrity. And for me, it is a concerning perspective that some people, actually this country, has placed such a high value on winning-at any cost.

Last year I watched a few moments of the Little League World Series, another one of those events that has grown out of perspective. I watched in disgust as one young player stood to watch his home run against a team they were easily beating. If I had been his coach, he would be benched shortly after rounding third.

As kids get older, the game changes and players often keep each other in line. Standing to watch a home run means that you might get hit the next time up, or your teammate might get hit. Of course, most kids watch the professional players, which do manage themselves to a point (base-brawls), and think that it is cool to engage in such antics. Of course, the difference is that young kids will often just take their beating, innocent in competition, and move on. This is why coaching is so important, and why the 100-0 basketball game is a disgrace.

When I coached high school sports, I wanted my players to play hard-that is what we taught. However, we also taught respect, and for me, a lopsided game, on either side, was an opportunity to play other kids. I also knew from experience that running up the score put my players at risk-if the other team decided to make their point regarding the unsportsmanlike behavior (by intentionally hurting a player). Any good coach knows there are ways to "call off the dogs" and still work to improve your team.

Unfortunately, again due mainly to America's obsession with winning championships, we have become harden to the win-at-all-cost perspective. Many have lost the value of competition, the training, learning and skill it takes to be successful. It is more than just about the scoreboard.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

125. Change requires a commitment

The end of each year, though somewhat arbitrary in nature, often offers reflection of the previous twelve months. We consider our successes and challenges, and through this analysis, we postulate and compose New Year resolutions. For most of us, this is an annual routine in which we focus on both the things we want to accomplish and those bad habits we wish to break.

New Year resolutions are commonly made up of personal commitments to stop smoking, spend more time with family, and, my annual resolution, to lose weight. I am sure I am not unusual in that the same resolutions end up on the list year after year.

Losing weight is a battle for many of us, one that is often overwhelming and among the most difficult personal transition to make. I like watching the Biggest Loser, and was excited to see an Oprah show that talked to some of the previous contestants and whether they were successful at keeping the weight off.

It was nearly heartbreaking to hear that many of the former contestants had trouble keeping their weight off. Some, like the first year winner, had put almost all of it back on; while others, even those that were relatively successful at keeping the weight off, gained 30-40 pounds after the show.

One wonders, how does someone who is given a second chance, who leaves the show healthy, happy about themselves, and with an education about weight loss, put the weight back on? Obviously, in this specific example, there are some extenuating circumstances-life is put on hold while they are losing weight. They are away from the temptations of their "everyday" life, they are surrounded by people embodied in the same journey, they have 24 hours a day to focus on losing weight, and finally, there is that competitive spirit.

However, given their successes, and their second chance, the question is why do so many ultimately fail at keeping the weight off. The question is not just for them, in fact, it is unfair to single them out, because this affects many of us. Many of our New Year resolutions will ultimately fail, prompting the real question, why is it so difficult to make the changes in our lives that allow us to reach our goals?

Like the biggest losers, we are often successful for a brief time, maybe even a couple of years, but we often return to our problems. Research has shown that those most successful at keeping the weight off were those people who were organized and created plans that outlined their commitment to losing weight.

Losing weight involves not only a physical change, for example, exercising more, but also includes a mental change. We are often educated about what needs to be done to change a habit, we are "reasoned with," (which is often just an exercise in the obvious), but fail to address the mental state of mind that leads to the bad habit. For some, eating too much is a serious addiction, for others it is just frequent indulgences.

To make changes in our life requires a mental commitment, one that is equipped to handle "life" when it presents challenges to our resolution. I speak from experience when I say we are good at making justifications...where we make an excuse for our moments of indiscretion. We also look for short cuts, ways to have a great tasting cheesecake that only has 100 calories, rather than embrace the sacrifice required to really change our lives.

I remember when my father lost a lot of weight before he passed away; he was obsessed, as every conversation was about either what he ate or what he was going to eat. He was retired and, like those at the Biggest Loser camp, he had the entire day to focus his efforts. However, for many of us this is not possible, we require balance-we cannot afford to focus all of our energy to one specific endeavor or else our other responsibilities will suffer.

At the same time, we must change: Do what you have always done and you will get what you have always gotten. It must be a change that becomes part of our lives, but does not overwhelm it. In alcohol addiction, one is often referred to as being in "recovery" the rest of their lives after treatment for the addiction. In other words, it is life style change and commitment that must be dealt with every day.

Obviously, if I had the answer to this quandary, I would be making millions selling self-help books (and could remove this resolution from my list). However, what I will suggest is that losing weight, like trying to break other habits, requires attention to all areas of our lives. It requires that we change our lives-physically, mentally, socially, by educating ourselves, with familial support, and through the formulation of a "game plan." We need to use all of the resources available to help us reach our goals.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, once we accomplish our goals, we have to realize that the battle is not over-as maintaining our change is just as difficult as making it. Complacency will surely result in short-lived success, and a spot on next year's list of resolutions.