Monday, April 3, 2017

Two Great Feats, Two Different Responses...Having Fun with Sports

I relish the win on Opening Day. I love that home opener victory. I believe that first tally in the win column sets an important tone for the season, for the team and even the fans. For San Francisco Giants, the #OpeningDay contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks resonated with too much of the 2016 season. The Giants blew a lead—twice—and gave up the W in the bottom of the ninth. 
This loss stung. I suppose the wounds of the 2016 season have not healed. I know the Giants are fielding a different squad, we have a talented closer in Mark Melacon (in spite of yesterday's performance). I believe hope springs eternal, especially in a sport that includes 161 games. When we say "there's a whole lot of baseball left to play," we mean it! But, I still wish things ended differently.

I suppose if you were to look for a silver lining, one could point and marvel at the ever-unfolding greatness of Giants' starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. How so? Why? He 
  • leads the league in home runs hit by a player.
  • is also the team's best hitter.
MadBum made history when he became the first MLB pitcher to hit two home runs in a game (the latter allowed his team to reclaim the lead). I looked for evidence that this feat meant something...anything to him. But he hasn't left a single trace of this accomplishment. Though he did discuss his achievement with reporters in a post-game, nearly mono-syllabic interview, no selfies, no tweets, no handmade signs with the number 2 or a colored-in diamond (the symbol that scorekeepers use for an HR) remain to be seen. Nothing. 

Those that know Bumgarner are not the least bit surprised. In fact, the airwaves surmised that he was more upset by the Giants loss, than fired up about his offensive stats. In a sport that can easily highlight individual accomplishments, he often hangs his head and keeps silent. He didn't get the loss, but he didn't get the win and more importantly, his team didn't either.
Last week, I shared with my students the photo of Devin Booker, who scored 70 points for the Phoenix Suns in a 130-120 loss to the Boston Celtics. The photo and the story behind how Booker got to 70 blew up on social media; he is the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game. I couldn't help but wonder: to what extent should an individual celebrate his or her accomplishments on a team sport? Is the personal feat of one athlete on a team worth promoting, even when the larger goal—to win—was not achieved? And though I already know the answer to this question, let's ask it: What would MadBum do?

I brought my question to coaches and athletes and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the conversation that followed. In part, the intense and competitive nature of some of my colleagues takes over their responses. These coaches, in particular of team sports, found Booker's photo reprehensible. Others raised some thoughtful questions e.g. Do all of his teammates feel the same way? As always, those who had context—essentially the Suns' season is over—and more information about the game—his teammates and coaches corroborated to get DB to 70....and/or in his defense, he made 24 of 26 free throws—provided a nuanced albeit less charged conversation.

As a coach, I have thought quite a bit about the importance of play in sports...and by play I mean recreation, having fun, and not fixating on the outcome...or even the W. (NB: this emphasis however is limited to practice and the off season. During a meet or a contest is not the time for play. The objective is clear, athletes roles are defined and mine as their coach has been determined). 

As a teacher, I have also considered what play might look like in the classroom. I enjoy playing with ideas....inviting in different perspectives...sparking debate...getting our personalities out in the open....making fun of one another (playfully) and hopefully laughing at ourselves in the process. For that, I would like to thank both Devin Booker and Madison Bumgarner, yes for what they have achieved and how they did it. Two great feats in two losses for the team, two very different points in the season, and two very different responses. 

What do you think of each response? I know my friend Jimmy absolutely loved it, as he picked up Booker in his fantasy basketball league. Good one. Discuss....have fun.

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