Monday, July 03, 2006

Hating Our Opponents?

A couple of months ago, there was an RSD thread about Aaron Bell from Oregon. The thread was the fairly typical mid-May "Aaron for Callahan" thread. One of the responses caught my attention, though. The author described competing against Aaron and what Aaron did when he found out that the author was having some gear issues. The author wrote, "That day one of my cleats was giving me trouble and I was moving my leg kind of funny to try to adjust it. Aaron comes over in between points and after noticing me doing this. He offers me a brace to help whatever is injured. I explain there is no injury but am dumbfounded that he would do this. I was his opponent. I hate my opponent no matter who it is. I am not going to help them out, let alone in the middle of a game".

I kept coming back to the line "I hate my opponent no matter who it is". At first, I figured that "hate" was probably just not the best word choice and that the author was simply trying to explain that he would never purposefully give an opponent any kind of advantage. Maybe it was meant as a turn of phrase like "Let's crush them". I can understand that. This type of gamesmanship happens all the time. We want our opponents to come to our field, we try to learn their plays, we dig for any psychological advantage, etc.

But then I started to wonder "What if the author actually meant 'hate'?" or "What if a player actually hates his opponents?" I guess I found this idea somewhat troubling. Hate to me is a very strong word and I think my bias is that this emotion can potentially color one's world view to the point where one is capable of destructive actions. I started to look into this a bit and began by looking the word up in the dictionary. The author's use is as a verb, and the definition is "feel intense or passionate dislike for (someone)". After looking this up, my next question was "Is it possible to hate our opponent and yet still act in a manner consistent with The Spirit of the Game". I specifically mean "never at the expense of mutual respect among players". Another way to phrase this is "if we hate our opponents, are we more likely to engage in 'taunting of opposing players, dangerous aggression, etc'?". I decided to look up "respect". The definition is: "feeling deep admiration for someone". This blog is a pretty clear testament to my lack of literary scholarship, but, to this uneducated soul, those two definitions are pretty much directly opposite one other. So, by the book, I would say that the answer is that hating our opponents is inconsistent with SOTG. For the sake of the following discussion, "hate" is meant in the context of a "self-generated" source of motivation, not as an emotional reaction to our opponents behavior or actions, and I probably need to be very clear that I am not calling the author of that post an unspirited player. I don't know who the author is, how he behaves on or off the field, or what the actual intent of his words were. Thankfully, most of us are studies in complexity and we embrace many perspectives that are not limited to the black and white definitions of a dictionary.

I think it is safe to say that, buried frequently behind the mask of humor, displays of mild disrespect are a common source of motivation for us Ultimate players (and, I am sure, other athletes as well). I recall once playing a talented team and by a "perfect storm" of events, we ended up bageling our opponent, which was clearly acknowledged by both sides as a fluke. Close to the end of the game, they took a time out, and, while trying to keep our chuckling and voices down to respectful levels, we said "let's bagel these guys and make them not want to play this sport again". I think the myriad of debates around spiking and/or showing the disc are also relevant. Other examples could be as benign as "Let's kick their ass".

Perhaps it is helpful, for the moment, to view our behavior from "mildly disrespectful" to "hateful" as a continuum rather than distinct entities. If so, why do we need to use this type of behavior to motivate ourselves? Perhaps it indicates a clear display of our imagined superiority. Or, perhaps, it serves to depersonalize our opponent enough to let us feel comfortable with vaquishing our foe. Maybe, in its mild forms, it is simply to have fun at our opponents expense. I will argue, though, that mild forms of disrespect toward our opponent distract us from focusing on ourselves and the task at hand, and that actual hate for our opponents is probably an immature (meaning not fully realized) method of trying to get the best out of ourselves. I use the word immature with deliberate caution as it is not only judgmental, but implies an assumption that I am mature or in a place to comment on others maturity. I also think that hate becomes potentially problematic as we tend to assume that the way we treat others is the way they are treating us. If so, then if I hate my opponent, I assume that they hate me as well. To me, this has to color our interpretations of our opponents behaviors.

At the very real risk of redundancy, I will say that I think the view of competition as the cooperative exercise of challenging both parties to reach their full potential as offered by "The Inner Game of Tennis" is not only a positive but a mature view of competition that sits very neatly with SOTG. This is to say that we can only perform at our peak, which I will argue is a viable source of motivation, if we welcome a full challenge from our opponent. The necessity to acknowledge our opponents talents and abilities might provide a foundation for respect. As an aside, Dean Smith, in his pre-game press conferences, always acknowledged the abilities of his opponents, and he would go further to cite the variety of ways in which his opponent held a psychological advantage over his team. So, while such behavior is certainly not mandatory, I think that viewing Aaron Bell's concern for his opponent through the lens of a realization that we need our opponents in order to reach our full potential will make us less "dumbfounded" by his actions, and, perhaps, make us realize that "hate", as it is strictly defined, is not a sustainable means of achieving full performance.

10 comments:

Rueben said...

Well said.

No room for hate anywhere in life - let alone on an ultimate field.

Are you coming over here to Perth for Worlds?

Rueben,
Bootious Maximus
QLD Mixed Team

luke said...

i do love the 'let's break them, and make them leave their cleats at the fields.' but there are certain players i hate playing against...

in that light, i hate portugal... while i, as a former soccer player, do appreciate the gamesmanship a little, the lack of sportsmanship... the constant fake injury to stymie the fastbreak (opponent supposed to kick it out of bounds), figo's shennanigans (a player i once respected highly)... doh...

while never a big france fan, zidane (spelling) was so brilliant... and at an 'old' age... the moves... wow... so alex, viva la france...

in other notes, syriana was great.

Rueben said...

Worst Cheer I ever heard on the field:

Blood makes the grass grow - KILL KILL KILL

gcooke said...

Rueben,

I bought into 6 Trained Monkeys goal to qualify for Worlds last year, and, when we qualified, I had initially planned to go. I had some long discussions with my wife about it and my daughter was all set to "see the koala bears", but in the end, I decided to retire as a player and we felt that the trip was not the trip we wanted to as a family right now.

A note on cheers and songs. I have been reading "How Soccer Explains the World", and some of the songs are really just vile. Funny in an "Aristocrats" kind of way.

Luke,

I just "Syriana" two nights ago. I think I need to watch it again to really get it.

-g

Julian said...

Thanks g; very thoughtful post. I've got a bunch of responses pinging around my head, but not the time to articulate them right now. I hope I find the time, but if I don't I just wanted to let you know I appreciated your thoughts.

j

gcooke said...

Julian,

Thanks for reading.

Luke,

I also hated playing against certain teams and certain individuals, but I wanted to be clear in this post that I was talking about hate in a very specific form; that which is an undiscriminatory source of motivation.

-g

Shawn said...

G-

To perhaps answer a question (or musing) posed in your post:

I do know the guy that posted that original message about Aaron Bell, and while he (the poster) is a very competitive, passionate Ultimate player, he places respect for fellow players higher than most, and is as laid back, friendly, and amicable a guy as you are likely to meet in competitive Ultimate.

I believe what he meant with his use of "hate" is not as literal as you may think. Having played on teams with this dude has shown me that his "hate" never extends beyond the silent desire to "one-up" his opponent or perhaps a pseudo-derogatory comment used to fire up his own teammates in a huddle. He is very aware of the line between "hating the obstacle between me and success" and actually hating the person that the obstacle is embodied within, and, in my experience, has never crossed it, even in the most intense moments of competition.

After our separate teams were involved in a heated row of a game this past year (while both he and I were not present), he emailed me and wanted to make sure that each team was reminded of the fact that we are all here for our own enjoyment, and playing with chips on our shoulders usually doesn't result in anything positive on the field.

Just wanted to make sure that no one who looked back on that comment, knowing the poster, misinterpreted what he said. My friend just has no hate left in him after his confrontation with the "assistant property manager" at Aloha Kai last October.

And Reuben, good to see you're alive and well - don't know if you remember me, I'm the red headed kid that played on the Moreton Bay Buggers in '02 - we're (CLX) hoping to pick up JohnnyMac for Chicago Heavyweights, screw up his game, then give him back to you at WUCC- just in time for our game vs BM.

And in the words of my man MF,
Paece.

gcooke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
gcooke said...

Hey Shawn,

Nice to hear from you. I appreciate the comments, and I do think that my post was mostly concerned with semantics.

I do like your take on "hating the obstacle" but not the person. I think this a helpful perspective.

I hope that my post came across as an extrapolation of a phrase and did not in any way cast a shadow upon the original author.

-G

gcooke said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.