It was a long and intense week, so there are a lot of subjects here on which I wanted to sound off. Please forgive my late arrival to many of these topics.
The Psychology of Winning/Sport
Listening to BigBlueInsider this week as errands were being run, I heard some troubling things. They weren't BIG troubling things, but they've been on my mind since. After a less than stellar practice, there were comments made by the staff and by those interpreting the staff that seemed odd. It was hard to tell which party is having trouble understanding things, because there were many people speaking both before and after the quotes or sound bytes aired, so I'm going to blanket all of the statements a bit. The intent is not to offend the individual commentators or anyone, but this undoubtedly will offend someone. I always seem to find a way.
The subject was motivation and inspiration, though I don't know if they directly addressed it as such.What seemed to cause the most confusion was the lack of drive of the players in the most recent lackluster practice. The comments made, however, answered the questions left unanswered, and no one noticed.
How does one expect high performance and focus, when the expectation of winning is not there?
Realism of expectation is one thing. Sport is the escape from that realism, however. Unless you're betting on the game and the family farm is on the line, what place does "realism" play in prepping for a contest?
What are you setting the team up for, if for one minute it is implied, inferred, or stated that they are not going to win?
It is understandable that a new head coach, taking a rebuilding job, dealing with (at least) a cynical press corps, and a small-but-vocal cynical percentage of fans, would play things down a bit when it comes to their game face with the public. Yet this cannot be what is broadcast in any way from the coaches to the players, and preferably not from the fans. The staff doing so with the team is going to put a cap on what they achieve IN-GAME.
Classic examples abound, but I will give just a couple here.
In a pre-game speech given to a team by their head coach before a big game, the first words out of that coach's mouth (to paraphrase) were, "I don't expect you to win this game..." Now, if you've played in a team sport at a quality level, you would feel in your competitive spirit the deficit that this causes. How many different feelings of a negative sort come to mind as a player at that moment? More importantly, how many of a positive kind CAN come to mind? Would you be surprised to learn that that team lost the game? Probably not, and definitely not as surprised as the team who heard their coach didn't believe in them or their ability.
In another game that a team was told they could not possibly win by everyone with whom they spoke, the team responded with an "I'll show you" attitude, took a lead over an "unbeatable" foe, and then late in the game, seemed to fulfill the belief of those they cherished and the expectations placed on them, playing tight, playing not to lose, turning the ball over, and losing in the end. From the outside and without understanding the psychology of competition, a person could conclude that the people the team listened to were right and they COULDN'T win that game. That is supported by the outcome after all.
The conclusions drawn ARE NOT the truth of the matter. If you've played the game or merely watched it, you've probably experienced or at the very least SEEN that this cannot be farther from the truth. The better team is NOT ASSURED of victory, at least... not until their opponent BELIEVES it is assured.
-Will the more talented team win more often than not? Yes.
-Will the more talented team make more big plays more often than not? Yes.
-Will the least talented teams tend to have more difficulty executing than the other? Yes.
There is not a doubt these can be proved true. Yet, none of them are absolute. They are only absolutes when the team that is told they are absolutes believes the outcome is decided. Period.
Never tell someone they cannot win, they will not win, or you don't expect them to win, if you WANT them TO WIN. If you want them to play beyond their ability no matter what is happening around them, you must believe in them. You must reinforce that belief with words and actions. People don't play this game to lose. They play games to win games, or they don't play. It's that simple.
People that want a reality check don't go to the movies, don't head to the gambling boat or the stadium, and they DON'T play sports. Fans that go to games and don't cheer are vampires sucking the life out of the team and program. People that go to gambling boats to be miserable and lose money will go alone and leave alone. Those that go to the movies expecting reality or a true story, no matter what the ads say, are setting themselves up for disappointment. Coaches and players that want reality and do not expect to win games against better teams will not and CAN not win them.
Sports are meant to be an escape from reality and the hardships it brings. Even in defeat, more than the possibility of victory, but the belief that it could be achieved, must always be an option.
Whitlow To Wide Receiver? Have We Learned Nothing?
In the last couple years of Coach Brooks tenure, he and his staff went down to Tennessee and found one of the greatest football players to have ever put on the fur of a Wildcat. Randall Cobb was, from the day he stepped on campus until the day he left, the best quarterback on the UK roster. Yes, he moved to WR. Truth is he would have played wherever the staff told him to play AND been better than most at that position. That's just the person and athlete he is. If you put him at guard, he'd have found a way to do it well.
He is a football player.
One of the biggest mistakes of the offensive staff (for the sake of the program) was to not abandon the ridiculously complicated offense they ran and build an offense around him at the QB position. While, I'm very glad it may have helped his NFL career (and I remain convinced he would have made a team anyway), I think he would have been much happier had his team been winning more games while he was at UK.
It's clear that Whitlow is not Cobb, don't get me wrong. It's also clear to those who didn't make up their minds beforehand that Whitlow is a good QB. At this point and time, he's just as good as Smith with a full year less under his belt. There is absolutely no reason to write him off, as so many want to do. In fact, the reality is very much the opposite, so, please, just stop it.
Could he be a great wideout? Sure. With the skill set and mind he has shown at QB, he definitely could be. Is that what's best for the team? No one has that crystal ball.
Moving Newton from QB before his last year was a COLOSSAL mistake for the team (and for him as well, given the limited upside for him so late in his career). Having taken no snaps with the offense until virtually game time the night he was thrown back into the position, it's no wonder he performed as poorly as he did. What is clear last year, as in many years before, was that it was the offensive scheme, personnel or the play-calling that was the bigger part of the problem at different times. The same cannot be said of this offense at this point.
I do agree that they need to use one QB for 80% of the snaps and use the other as needed, as a changeup or as a redzone QB. Aside from that, the QB needs to get a rhythm. (It would be great if Whitlow could pickup enough of the WR position to be in the game with Smith and be effective there no matter what they run, but this is college ball we're talking about, and practice time, thus snaps, are extremely limited. I would like to see them work with both QBs on rollout techniques and effectiveness moreso than just moving Whitlow.)
What also will need to get a rhythm until the depth of talent is developed, would be the situations at the WR and RB position. RBs and WRs need touches. UK doesn't have the depth to rotate as they would with a full roster. They need to increase the number of plays that Kemp (and Sanders/Mobley) and their best receivers are on the field together, keeping at least one or two of the best out there whenever Kemp is at RB. (As I understand it, Kemp HAS to pick up his game in the non-carry aspects before that can happen.)
Both QBs need to get better with their reads in the read-option portion of the offense.
Spurrier and Running Up the Score
Yeah. My Hanes are in a wad on this as well. Don't like the score? Stop 'em from scoring. Pretty simple.
There are only so many hours of practice time, so many snaps, so many repetitions the players can get in the NCAA. Why anyone would begrudge the players significant, real-game experience is not a mystery to me, but it is ridiculous. Absolutely.
Great coaches that lose blowouts get the most out of those situations. You get big game reps for your backups.. You see what kind of depth and talent you really have on your roster, and occasionally you find a guy who is truly a better game player than practicer that can make game-changing plays when otherwise you would never have known.
Here's how it works: You pull your starters- the other coach pulls his. You stop the second team with your second team, he puts his starters back in. They score again. You pull your second team for your third team, then he puts his second team back in and towards the end maybe his third team. VALUABLE experience.
IF, however, your first team still needs real-game experience to get better, you leave em in to learn as much as possible and you get beat by a big number. That's how things work.
The bottom line is that fans can be upset about it all they want, or they can understand competition better and accept what's necessary about it. There is no question that accepting losing before you've lost is unacceptable. Accepting that you lost after the fact and moving on is not only acceptable but required to be a healthy person.
That's one of the biggest lessons of sports (and Galaxy Quest). Never give up, never surrender, until after all is lost (and in football, it is never that dire until you are about to hang up your cleats for good).