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If you’re fortunate, at some point in your life, you’ve played a sport on a championship-level team. Luckily, I have. However, if you’ve played a lot of team sports, you’ve also played on mediocre or bad teams. Unluckily, I have.
You can tell the difference.
On good teams, the players compete to make themselves and their teammates better. They run the extra mile. They don’t jog when they’re supposed to be sprinting. They urge each other on, and pay attention to what everyone is doing. They criticize — not attack — each other when they fail. They encourage each other (although soft pleasantries aren’t required). They push. They strive. When you’re surrounded by champions, you can’t help but push yourself. And when you fail, on championship teams, your teammates pick you up. Get ‘em next time. Don’t give up.
Bad teams are just as identifiable. They goof off when they’re supposed to be working. They look for ways to evade notice. They wallow in excuses. Ain’t worth it, man. And when a teammate fails, they laugh. Give up, man. You wonder why they’re bothering to play if they aren’t trying to win.
So often, the difference is discipline. Discipline postpones gratification. Discipline is the opposite of gratification. More often than not, it’s abandoning gratification altogether and embracing excellence or achievement or duty instead. Discipline isn’t about pleasure (sooner or later); it’s about accomplishing something meaningful.
Sports are one thing. Life is another.
For instance, I confess to a visceral loathing of the Sexual Revolution, and the current culture that’s built upon it. It isn’t about the sex; it’s about the rejection of discipline. I’m all for women being treated as equals, and to the degree that the Sexual Revolution freed women, that’s a good thing. But the baby is out with the bathwater when the Sexual Revolution endorses the “freedom” of rejecting any limitations or discipline, usually by portraying any discipline as a Victorian taboo. Instead of fixing a problem, they threw out the discipline and called it “freedom.”
It all seems so “bad team” familiar. No discipline. Excuses instead of responsibility. Tearing people down instead of constructive criticism. Failures being exploited and publicized, instead of encouraging people to come back and do better. This is what bad teams do. I’ve seen this before. I’ve felt this before. This is how it felt to be on a bad team.
Reading the always-interesting Kevin Williamson at NRO yesterday, it struck the same chord. Kevin is covering the story of the Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, who had the gall to insist on […gasp…] Catholic discipline. The San Francisco media and much of the population reacted in horror. How dare the bishop call for such discipline! As Williamson mentioned, the bishop’s opponents have now resorted to reminding everyone how imperfect Cordileone is — after all, he has a DUI! That immediately struck a chord; this is more bad team behavior.
More and more, I’m going back to those lessons I was taught as a kid, and seeing them played out in real life. Good teams, bad teams, and all of the habits, attitudes, and behaviors that spell the difference.