Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ask the Theory: Talking to Losers

On the Blogger dashboard, all the way to the right, there’s a stats tab, and under the stats tab are more tabs, including one that lets me see the most common search terms that have led visitors to this site. Now, most of the people who get to my blog via Google are searching for the title or some garbled variation thereon, so probably they know what they’re in for. But there are also a lot of folk who land on my articles having Googled for subjects that I have never actually addressed. I feel a surge of pity for these poor people, because they’re sitting there plowing their way through a really involved six thousand word essay, only to find that it doesn’t even address their problem. I imagine them hanging their heads sort of sadly and clicking back to the search page all dejected and discouraged, their faith in indexing dented forever. So, as a public service, I’ve decided to start an occasional advice column, that the poor lost and confused Googlers of the world might find the knowledge they seek. Or at least my opinion, which is not quite the same, but it’s the best I can do.

The single, absolute, number-one non-title related query that lands people on my blog is “what to say to a losing team?” I must be, somehow, one of the Web’s top-ten answers to this question, because I get hits from it all the time. Every day, sometimes four or five times a day. This is obviously a major problem for a large number of people, and if they’re resorting to me to solve it, than it’s clear the internet is letting them down. Dammit, I will not fail these people one day longer. Here goes:

What you should say to a losing team depends primarily on two things: 1) The nature of your relationship to the team/team member to whom you are speaking, and 2) why the team lost. If you consider these two questions before opening your mouth, you can’t go too far wrong, unless the loser in question is one of those ultra-competitive, obsessive types who’s just going to fume and stew no matter what anyone says. In that case, you don’t say one word about the game, you just go into the next room and play Katamari Damacy until they’ve had time to chill the fuck out.

Firstly, if you are the parent or significant other of the losing person, this is what you say: “It’s okay, you played well/tried hard, don’t worry about it.” If they seem really distraught, throw in some additional allusions to how awesome you think they are, and possibly take them out for ice cream and/or alcohol, depending on the legal restrictions in your area. That’s ALL. If you are a parent/significant other, your purpose in this person’s life is to be supportive, so be fucking supportive. Doesn’t matter if you know they suck at the game in question with suction-power of a thousand collapsed stars, you keep that shit to yourself and be nice. People have coaches, teammates, and bros to provide criticism and trash-talk when necessary. But if you have ever unironically referred to the losing person as ‘baby’, you are not allowed to criticize. That’s a rule.

However, if you are a coach, you have a certain duty to be critical, because in essence a coach is a hockey teacher, and criticism is an essential part of teaching. You’re there to impart knowledge, including the knowledge of mistakes, flaws, and errors. So in that case, we come to point two: why did they lose? Assuming you’re a coach, you should know, so your goal is to communicate that why in the clearest, most productive way. If they played badly, how so? What was lacking? What was the other team doing better? Be specific, be dispassionate, don’t unduly berate anyone (unless they did something morally as well as tactically repugnant), but don’t sugar-coat unless the team you’re coaching is comprised of children under ten.

There are two exceptions: if the team suffers from a form of intrinsic and insurmountable badness that effectively guarantees frequent losing, that’s when you gently push their expectations and self-judgment in the direction of lesser, more achievable goals. When Chinese Taipei went to the Asian Winter Games, they got bumped up to the top division, where instead of playing pushovers like Macau they facing off against Kazakhs and South Koreans, teams two or three tiers higher in the IIHF rankings. Of course they got their asses kicked. Horribly. It could not have been otherwise. But they did manage to score one goal and start a whole bunch of fights against China, which was a spiritual victory, and they learned a ton. The trip was run of ugly losses on the scoresheet, yes, but still a worthwhile experience. See how that works?

The other exception is losses due to pure luck- i.e. bad bounces, bad officiating, injury, etc. For those cases, the best policy is to prepare a little speech aggregating a bunch of examples of how often and easily a good hockey team can still lose a run of games. End with “Head down, power through,” then adjourn for ice cream/alcohol.

And finally: perspective, people. Unless the game you just lost was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in the absolute last year of your career, there is no hockey loss so disastrous that the pain cannot be mollified by a few steps backwards. The whole beauty of games, the absolute best thing they can offer you that real life cannot, is their abundance of second and third and hundredth chances, as many chances as you have the balls/ovaries to take. Hockey is like life with a reset button: every time you start a new season, a new game, every time you line up for a new faceoff, you get another chance. A loss is never the end in any meaningful sense. It’s just the hockey gods daring you to try again.


Anonymous said...

I hope none of the people who stumbled across this post on Google were trying to console someone who had just lost their last career game in game 7 of the SCF :)

E said...

that's probably one of those things you never get over. either you carry the regret to your grave or you renounce all worldly attachments and become a acetic hermit up some mountain somewhere.

pph free trial said...

I don't know why but it is part of the google search system but eventually they will find a way to make more smarter.