Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sport, redemption, and chaos

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I watched my university, Northeastern, lose an overtime game to our cross town rival, Boston University. In the game one of our better players, a man who seems to work tirelessly and selflessly in each game, missed two consecutive free throws during regulation. He seemed to be able to put it behind him, but when the game ended in a tie after 40 minutes and then we lost in overtime, the missed foul shots had to linger and sting.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving Northeastern was again in a tight game against Wright State University. Again the same player was at the foul line, this time with only 38 seconds left and Northeastern down by one. He had two shots and missed the first one. He made the second and tied the game, but this time as well he must have known that with another foul shot his team would have been in the lead.

The Wright State Coach put up five fingers signalling to his players that he wanted the push for the final shot to occur with five seconds remaining. This way, a missed shot would leave Northeastern no time to score and a made shot would result in victory. His player however did not do as instructed. With ten seconds left, not five, he moved to the hoop and shot. He missed. The tireless worker who had failed at the foul line got the rebound. There were only two seconds left. He took two dribbles and lofted a shot from the mid court line. When it went in he was mobbed by the bench as well as the mascot.

One of the great things about sports is that you often get a second chance, another shot to make things right.

And you have multiple chances as well to do things wrong. Little things, seemingly inconsequential things, can have significant effects. This is essentially the basis of chaos theory which I've written about in earlier blogs.

What is the big deal about going to shoot with ten seconds as opposed to five? The difference between revelling and walking away feeling like a stunned depressed loser.

What we do, even the little things, have consequences. In sport these consequences are relatively easy to detect. I'm not sure they are elsewhere. The difference between revelling and feeling depressed can be a function of apparently inconsequential behavior that is, in ways I can not figure out, somehow consequential.

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