People Who Play Sport

In Sports by Brock Bourgase

When asked about Bill Belichick’s coaching success, analyst Chris Schultz said that New England’s coach understood the difference between football players and people who play football. When asked about Sam Cassell’s potential as a coach, Sam Mitchell said that Los Angeles’ point guard must learn what to do when players don’t see what he sees.

Major-General Isaac Brock was appreciated for the charisma he employed while commanding British forces in Upper Canada. Colonel Roger Sheaffe was equally disliked for his aloofness and occasionally cruel management style. The critical trait was to treating the 49th Regiment of Foot as a group of people, not mindless soldiers.

Criticism of the Phoenix-Miami trade ignores that the Suns are people who play basketball. What if the Marion-Stoudamire rift was destroying team chemistry? Or what about Phoenix’s increased confidence playing with Shaq? Opponent reluctance to attack the basket? And Shaq’s drive to prove doubters wrong? All personal factors that cannot be easily measured.

Shawn Marion’s steals on the wing and finishes on the break can be measured, as can the disappearance of easy baskets in the playoffs. Boards mean more than strips because of the opportunities they provide. Teams can win games with 85 points in the postseason if they allow only 80. Halfcourt sets must generate high-percentage shots. All areas where Shaq succeeds and Marion does not.

Shawn Marion brought multiple positives to the Suns but the positive reaction of the people involved in the trade is a prominent reason why it might push the team to new heights. Nevertheless, Steve Kerr should sign the best wing defender in the C.B.A. in case Phoenix must stop Kobe Bryant in the second round.

Tom Coughlin changed his philosophy after New York started the N.F.L. season with two losses. Self-assurance and poise defined the Giants’ championship run. Execution improved on both sides of the ball, not because of fear of discipline but due to increased focus and reduced stress.

In the Superbowl, New England proved fallible after all. Tom Brady – the person, not the image – was pressured throughout the game and made mistakes. The Patriots faced tremendous adversity; New York’s awareness of this fact supplemented the confidence that the Giant’s gained from their Week 17 experience against the Pats.

People are not perfect and it is consequently extremely difficult for teams to do likewise. Had Belichick followed Schultz’s characterization more closely, he would have done more to eliminate outside influcences on the Patriots and coached more actively. New England seemed to need more external motivation to energize the older and tired team whose intrinsic motivation had faded after eighteen consecutive wins.

Players from the intramural to the professional levels are always affected by emotions which are as difficult to master as elite sport. Accepting that players are fallible individuals is an essential criterion for successful coaches.