Having evened up the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece heading back to Miami, the Boston Celtics took their third in a row on Wednesday night, 94-90, to stunningly take the lead in the series. Doc Rivers’ squad was down by as much as 13 in the contest, but on the back of a strong third quarter and some clutch shooting down the stretch–converting nine straight at the line–the Celts eventually went ahead and valiantly hung on.
With his team up just one and 52.1 ticks left on the clock, Paul Pierce nailed a trey to give his team a four-point advantage. It wasn’t exactly a dagger, per se, thanks to the faster-paced nature of the NBA game relative to the college version. But still, Pierce’s triple would have to be considered the shot of the game, especially taking into account that he hit it right in the face of the league’s ever-polarizing MVP, LeBron James.
And yet, Pierce wasn’t the most important actor in the edge-of-your-seat drama that was Game 5. And nor, for that matter, was Kevin Garnett, who was likewise huge in helping Boston earn and then maintain its lead. For those that then are figuring I must clearly be joking and immediately jumped to Brian Scalabrine as your answer, nice try, but you’re even more wrong; sadly, he doesn’t play for us anymore. (Well, he never really played, but you get my point)
Rather, what all of us should take away from Game 5 is the lesson taught by this kid, apparently henceforth destined to be enshrined in Internet Lore as “Good Job Kid”. As I’m writing this, the game’s only been over for probably less than an hour, and the look-on-the-bright-side Miami youngster is already all over the web. Like many out there, I’ve gotta say, I’ve found it all pretty hilarious.
I mean, when you lose a game, of course no athlete’s really comforting him- or herself with the notion that they put in a “good effort,” at least not at the professional level: winning’s all that matters, and we as a society have come to embrace that as the foundation upon which our sporting culture is built. Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, after all, is credited with the famous (and nauseatingly over-quoted) line, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
But is it?
Feel free to discredit me right now if you want, but in the end, I think Good Job Kid is actually getting at something here. As Garnett’s post-game interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke helped to demonstrate, America’s inbred obsession with winning is the primary motivator for so many of our elite athletes. It’s not merely a love of winning though, but–to paint a more accurate picture–a hatred of losing as well.
Unfortunately, while our competitive nature has brought our nation so much success (in war as well as in sports), these extreme emotions that we attach to sports results is not always a good thing.
For one, fans putting so much stock into a game’s result can unsurprisingly lead to increased stress, as well as negative effects on one’s heart–if you know anyone who has had a heart attack while watching an important sporting event, it’s likely no coincidence. Sportsmanship has of course also suffered, and the psychological impact of instituting such a strong stigma against losing from a young age can’t be understated.
But, in addition, other and perhaps more surprising consequences have also resulted from this mentality we’ve adopted.
It is no small secret that the United States men’s national soccer team is far from world-class, having gone no further in the World Cup in the modern era than the quarterfinals in 2002. And yet, growing up, it seems like nearly every suburbanite kid from sea to shining sea plays either in a town league or for a local travel team.
One of the major reasons for this giant disparity in American soccer between the sheer number of participants and championship trophies is, in fact, the aforementioned emphasis on winning. Now that might sound paradoxical at first, but I’m hardly the originator of this idea, and there’s a definite reasoning behind it. Namely, youth soccer coaches in America too often employ tactics designed to win games that actually hinder kids in developing their creativity on the pitch, which is an absolute necessity in the higher levels of The Beautiful Game. If you watch the play of any of the world’s top clubs or national sides (Barcelona and Spain being the best examples), this truth becomes self-evident.
In the case of soccer, our narrow-minded focus on winning at the youth levels just cannot continue if we are ever to become a great soccer nation.
Recognizing this, USMNT Manager Jürgen Klinsmann has worked with former U.S. captain and current U.S. youth technical director Claudio Reyna to try to change the culture of American youth soccer. Only when unshackled from the burden of always needing to win can soccer tikes have a chance to grow into the players they have the potential to become: winning will have its day in the sun, but only if “good effort” and “good job” come first.
On a personal level, though, even if the W’s don’t come, what’s wrong with taking pride in one’s performance? So many athletes will say that they’re “never satisfied,” always pushing themselves to improve and refusing to give in to complacency. But while it’s one thing not to be complacent, such a mindset teeters on a dangerous edge.
All the time knowing that there’s always work to do to improve, in sports–as in life–you must nonetheless be comfortable with and proud of who you are, and doing otherwise just isn’t healthy. Giving your “best” effort (and I can’t vouch for the Heat that this was necessarily the case for them in Game 5) does mean a heck of a lot, and we have to be careful not to overlook that.
So make way, Charlie Sheen–Good Job Kid’s got a new message.
Here’s hoping it catches on.