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.”