Sports are an imperfect analogue.
But like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, analogues and metaphors provide representations that if properly understood can give us insight to the real world – not simply shadows on the cave wall.
So what does this have to do with the most American (as in the United States and Canada – not the rest of the countries in the Americas) of sports, baseball?
Baseball, like some other sports, is won – or lost – one game at a time. A win 20-1 is just as good as a win 1-0. When you lose you have time to regroup, and when you win you still have to go out in the next game and start all over again.
And in highest level of professional men’s leagues that operate in North America, the American League (which includes a team in Canada) as well as in the National League, we (as in the public) have just seen two of the most stunning team comebacks (or collapses depending on your perspective) in the history of the sport.
On September 3rd the American League’s Boston Red Sox were not only contending for their division lead, but they had a 9 game lead over the division third place team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in the race for the fourth and last playoff spot in their league. Over in the National League the Atlanta Braves had an 8 1/2 game lead over both the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants for that league’s 4th and final play-off spot.
Teams do not comeback from those types of deficits but perhaps once in a baseball lifetime. Last night two teams accomplished that feat.
After the last games of the regular season last night the Red Sox are crying in their beer while the Devil Rays are in the playoffs. The Sox have company; Atlanta watched the Cardinals claim the National League’s final spot on the last day of the regular season as well.
For the Red Sox, quant wonk Nate Silver, who is also a political blogger (Silver correctly called 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 US Presidential elections – his FiveThirtyEight blog for the NY Times can be found here) and baseball expert, called the “Collapse of the Red Sox Could be the Worst Ever” in baseball. Nate knows stats. The Devil Rays had little chance of coming back; similar story with the Cardinals.
So what does this baseball talk have to do with somebody really important – you?
Both the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves had daunting leads over their rivals. Baseball, like life, has a rhythm, and both the Devil Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals kept chipping away (the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants did not, but that’s another story). Bit by bit, game by game, the once mighty leads that both the Braves and Sox held started to slip.
Momentum, whether in sports or in careers, is a well observed but poorly understood phenomenon. Part of my experience is that you create much of your own momentum by persevering. Plugging away, day after day, even if it looks like the odds aren’t so hot.
It’s the stuff that makes the University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Duckworth’s work (see The Winning Edge from Psychology Today) or Carole Dweck at Stanford’s work so amazing; research shows that much of doing well can be reduced to perseverance and adaptive strategies, not just “talent” or pedigree. Character counts.
Success is sticking with it when the odds don’t look so great; the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were down 7-0 in their game last night and down to the last out yet still won (against the New York Yankees, nonetheless) 8-7 to claim a playoff spot in a stunning turn of events.
Their is a rhythm to winning; it comes from trying, gritting, and persvering, whether it’s you alone, or the 25 players on a Major League baseball roster.
Just ask the Cardinals and the Devil Rays.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.