In Sports by Brock Bourgase

If by Rudyard Kipling (and Recent Observations from the Wide World of Sports)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

As tempting as it may be to point fingers and feel resentful when the outcome is far from desirable, this merely eschews responsibility to seek a shallow satisfaction that is easily found. Deeper gratification flows from self-actualization: look inside and see what aspect of the process that you can improve. It’s always hard to admit the changes one can make and follow through.

The 1950s Boston Celtics included multiple all-stars and several Hall of Famers and titles could have been easily forgone in favour of statistics. Winning the first championship was hard but the greater challenge lay in defending the crown. The team would hold meetings where individuals would ask the group “what can I do to get better?” and everyone took responsibility for following through with dedicated practice when the team next gathered in the gym.

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

Even at the professional level, bench players value their membership to the team less than those who start. In Euroleague play, it is not so much scoring and shooting percentage that determine who starts and who does not but rebounding and the ability to play defense without fouling. Starters and bench players have similar physiological characteristics but the athletes who play most of the time are those who get more rebounds and play defense better than their counterpart. The locus of control to increase these statistics is almost entirely internal.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

Players sometimes get to focused on the dream, the scholarship offer or the professional career, and lose sight of how to get there or discount the need for a back-up plan. As much as physical gifts, such as athleticism and talent, will be required, so will mental skills, such as grit and collaboration. Coaches shouldn’t teach one without the other.

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

A failure of many coaches is to focus too intensely on what will be taught, ignoring the how and the why. Coaches need six honest serving assistant coaches to make lessons relevant and curriculum meaningful. When we prove too myopic in our perspective and too introspective in our reflection, we forsake the forest for the trees. The big picture is not which fantastic scheme we will run but how it will come together and suit the personnel who is on hand. It leads also to needless anguish as nobody who lives in the real world and live up to ideal standards pulled out of thin air.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

Last year, LeBron James lost in the N.B.A. Finals and faced harsh criticism for his failure to take over the Miami Heat in crunch time situations. Every move – from a vanishing act in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, “The Decision” and a handful of appalling fourth quarter performances in the 2011 Finals – was placed under a microscope and scrutinized.

Over the summer, it was rumoured that he was working on Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake in order to develop his post game. He certainly returned with a more assertive mindset. This summer, he has been practicing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Sky Hook. Whether he incorporates the skills entirely into his game or not, it shows a commitment to improvement. He applied his new post play technique and determination in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals and the rest of the Association can look forward to more of the same in the coming years.

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

Out of the ten teams who made the 2012 baseball playoffs, eight were managed by someone who had been fired from another job. If you coach long enough, almost everything (good and bad) will happen to you. Losing a game and losing a job, while still maintaining one’s philosophy and principles embiggens the smallest coach. Davey Johnson feels that he can place Jason Werth and his .827 O.P.S. at the top of the lineup, giving him an additional at-bat whenever possible, because he has been in the game for so long. The tactic paid dividends in Game 4 when Werth hit a walk-off home run.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

Replacing Alex Rodriguez with a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning was an extremely audacious decision by New York manager Joe Girardi. Replacing the Yankee third baseman for the decisive fifth game showed an independent mindset but was not as risky since statistics show Eric Chavez performed better against right handed pitchers throughout the season. Letting Rodriguez strike out and fail would have placed the blame on the highest paid player in baseball but actively replacing him placed the responsibility on the manager’s shoulders.

Conventional wisdom can be paralyzing because it is the safe thing to do. Girardi might have been criticized because he didn’t adjust the batting order but he could have hidden behind the fact that he let his best players hit but they didn’t deliver. He felt that making the substitution for Raúl Ibañez (in Game 3, and Chavez in Game 5) was better for the team. It paid off, this time, and Girardi deserves the accolades. Often, coaches don’t go for it on fourth down, diagram the play for the hot shooter or don’t go with their instinct and this example shows the potential benefits of doing so.

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

Tim Lincecum experienced a noteworthy fall from grace, from winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards to sitting out as Barry Zito (!) was placed in the playoff rotation. A potentially negative situation because a positive one as ignored an obstacle he kept his eyes on the goals the team set at the start of the year. Lincecum could have pouted and given up but h remained focused and waited for his chance to contribute.

Perhaps the first game, which he would have normally pitched, provided an opportunity to gather himself mentally and find what he had lost this year. He pitched effectively out of the bullpen twice and won Game 4 to keep San Francisco’s playoff hopes alive. Now, he is a weapon that the Giants’ opponents must contend with in the N.L.C.S., a complete reversal of roles after his mediocre regular season.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

Dedicated practice is composed with two elements: intensity and quality. Quality is usually the purview of the coach, ensuring athletes are instructed thoroughly and giving specific feedback so they perform the skill correctly. Intensity is less easily defined and lies within the domain of the players. Coaches can load the drills but it is the players who decide whether they really want to go all out when they train together. Coaches can define what hard work is and remind athletes how it should feel but it is up to the player to retain the memory of maximal effort and deliver that exertion even on their own.

N.B.A. training camps are open at the moment and while spots for scorers are limited, there are many opportunities for those willing to set screens, rebound and put pressure on the ball. Jamaal Magloire and Alan Anderson show leadership on the bench and tenacity on the court respectively but I feel that the reason Dwane Casey keeps them with the team is the intensity they bring to practice, workouts and games on a daily basis. Any team – ranging from high school to club to college – could greatly use players with those attributes.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

It’s hard for a team to win. Some many factors must come together – decision-making by players and coaches, hours of dedicated practice, intensity and quality – at the same time. Ultimately, players and coaches decide to be accountable to themselves and each other, not observers, hangers-on, pundits and YouTube clips.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Lay off the texting for a minute or two. It’s a distraction.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!