Friday, November 1, 2013

Looking deeper at "The Will To Win"

I freely admit there are things that bother me that I really need to let go of. I know people are going to continue to say “podium” when they mean “lectern.” I know people will continue to say “ATM machine” when the M in the acronym already stands for machine. Same with “PIN number.”

I realize in the grand scheme of life, people using redundant phrases falls between “Netflix no longer streaming that movie you were eventually going to get around to watching, maybe” and “your favorite store no longer carrying the brand you use so now you have to go to a different store two minutes farther from your house to get it” on the list of things to worry about, but I do.

So when I saw this status update from Georgia Southern Athletics reminiscing about the Eagles’ first national title in 1985, my “this really isn’t that important, why is it bothering you” alarm went off.

A second-year NCAA Div. I-AA program, Georgia Southern had an improbable run through the playoffs and won a championship with teamwork, the will to win, more than 300 yards passing in the second half, and a confident freshman who grabbed a helluva pass for the game-winning touchdown.”

Improbable run through the playoffs? No issue

Teamwork? Absolutely necessary.

300 yards passing in the second half? Vital to the victory.

The will to win? WHAT?

What does that even mean? As best as I can tell, it means they wanted to win. Perhaps badly, even desperately. Their opponents, the ones also playing for a national title, clearly they didn’t have the will to win. Sure, they were one of the last two teams playing and had spent hours upon hours of practice developing their skills, making sacrifices to give up time with friends, family and any number of other things, but they didn’t have the will to win. They were just kind of out there, playing for the enjoyment of physical exercise and didn’t care about the outcome of the game.

“The Will To Win” (TWTW) is right up there with “Wanted It More” as phrases people go to in an attempt to explain outcomes of games. Both teams played hard and it was close, but in the end, it came down to who wanted it more. It’s nonsense. It came down to highly skilled athletes playing hard and a break going one way instead of the other. It’s got nothing to do with desire or heart or other explanations used to try to explain the randomness that is sports.

The problem with using those phrases is when you don’t win. To believe teams that win have this innate desire for victory means the opposite must also be true. This year, Georgia Southern is 4-3. Presumably that means there have been three games this year when the Eagles’ players had no will to win while in four games the players actually wanted to win. It would mean that the losses in the semifinals each of the past two years, the players decided they’d had enough and no longer had TWTW. Otherwise, they would have won. But since they lost, it’s clear, if not stated outright, that the players and coaches don’t have TWTW. Otherwise, they’d have won, right?

So let’s agree that we’re smarter than this. We don’t need to fall back on meaningless clichés to try to explain the outcome of a sporting event. We’re better than this.

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