NEW CASTLE —
“They’re playing with house money.”
How many times have we heard announcers use that phrase during the football season?
I stopped counting at Christmas.
Then I heard it again over the weekend during the NFL wildcard playoffs.
You may have, too.
And there’s a good chance you asked yourself, “What in the world are they talking about?”
Without going into great detail, “playing with house money” is a gambling term. It means you’ve already won above and beyond what you took with you to the casino, or “house,” so you can safely tuck away that original money and continue to gamble with only your winnings.
In other words, you’ve got nothing to lose.
In sports speak, it means there’s no pressure on you. The expectations aren’t high. You can play loose, fast and free.
I get it. I know what the talking heads on ESPN are saying.
But I do have a question: Why can’t EVERYONE play with house money?
Why do only 8-8 playoff teams, non-SEC bowl teams and “mid-major” basketball teams get to have all the fun?
Is it possible for all of us to compete with “house money” — even if we’re unbeaten or a section favorite?
Maybe it just comes down to perspective.
Why do the top teams feel pressure? And where does it come from?
Well, it usually flows from sources outside of the team. The same people on ESPN who say one team can play “free” are the same people saying there’s lots of “pressure” on the opponent.
Pressure results from our thinking too far into the future or dwelling on the past. Pressure results from focusing our thoughts on an outcome. Pressure results from taking our eyes off the task at hand and fixing our gaze on something that’s out of our control.
So, how do we overcome the beast? How do we fight through the shortness of breath, the wobbly legs and brain fog?
For starters, you can turn down the sound when watching a game on TV. Analysts and play-by-play announcers are terrific at marketing drama so we will continue to watch.
The more we watch, the more we listen, the more we ingest some key words and phrases into our psyche.
All are negative.
•“He’s got to play the game of his life today.”
•“Coach (fill in the blank) is on the hot seat and needs to win to keep his job.”
•“Team B had a great regular season but now the pressure must be intense to hold their home-court advantage.”
•“Coach A needs to work the refs some more. He’s not getting the calls.”
It’s drama. It’s marketing. It’s soap opera stuff to keep you interested and buying products associated with the telecast.
Who knows? Maybe that’s the reality when you’re a professional athlete or coach. But most of us will never know what that feels like.
So here’s the simple truth for the rest of us who compete or coach at the high school and youth levels:
You’re playing a game. You started to play it because it was fun. It’s still supposed to be. Don’t let others steal your joy.
Here, then, are two excellent ways to play “free, loose and present.”
1) Focus on the Process
Remember the old Rodney Dangerfield joke?
Rodney: “Hey, Doc, my arm really hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: “Then don’t do that.”
(Insert rimshot here.)
We need to take the good doctor’s advice as well. We’ve got to stop focusing on outcomes.
Instead, let’s focus on the process. Let’s identify the things we actually have control over and stop reaching for results.
Here’s a formula to remember — Attitude + Effort + Fundamentals = Play Free, Loose and Present.
What is your role on the team? Focus on playing that role to the best of your ability. Do your job completely. Trust your training. The results will take care of themselves.
“There is no scoreboard. Next play. All there is, is the next play,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said during a recent interview.
Saban’s Crimson Tide have won three national titles in the past five years.
Now that’s money.
2) Remember, what we do is not who we are
You are not your job. You are not your SAT score. You are not your batting average or shooting percentage or yards after catch.
Neither am I.
We are uniquely designed with passions to work in certain fields or to perform in certain disciplines.
But you are not Joe, the plumber. You are not Betty, the cookie lady. You are not Jamal, the quarterback.
Those are roles we play. Those are talents we have. Those are ways we serve and entertain and inspire and point the way.
It’s not who we are.
When we fall into that trap, when we define ourselves only by our skills and talents, that’s when pressure comes.
Yet that’s not the truth.
Truth is, the free throw in the first quarter is just as important as the free throw with no time left. However, whether you make or miss a shot in those instances does not define you as a “bad shooter” or “horrible player.” It just means you missed a shot.
Truth is, the field goal on the opening drive counts as three points. So does the field goal in overtime. Whether you make or miss the kick does not define you as a “failure.” You were just wide left, wide right or short.
In other words, we’ve simply got to take care of business when there’s business to take care of. And then move on to the next play.
•So does that mean we still put in the deep practice? Yes, we should be excellent at whatever we do.
•Does it mean we still compete with all of our heart? Absolutely! We should be passionate about our play.
•Does it mean we strategize and scout and devise new schemes? Of course. We should always try to create the best opportunities for success.
•And, yes, it means we leave it all on the floor or the field. If you are going to make the effort to suit up for your school, there’s no other way to play.
Just remember to focus on the process.
And to not let your performance define who you are as a human being.
Still remember our formula? Attitude + Effort + Fundamentals = Play Free, Loose and Present.
“The big thing is to make a winning effort. I’m not obsessed with wins,” says Morgan Wooten.
By the way, the former DeMatha High basketball coach retired a few years back with more than 1,200 victories.
Now that’s money.
Let’s go play with it.
NEW CASTLE —
“They’re playing with house money.”
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