I listen to sports radio. I am slightly embarrassed to admit it. The ranting, the raving, the locker room humor, the abuse of callers, the abuse of show hosts, and all the rest seems a bit unbecoming for professional who works behind the scenes helping develop players. Nonetheless, I rationalize my decision to tune into 98.5 regularly as necessary for my staying on top of all things sports (a professional obligation). Besides that, let’s face it, sports radio can simply be good fun.
In the midst of the morning talk free for all last week, a caller said something that may be good food for thought for all athletes. A quite rational, Patriot’s fan (it’s still early in the season and the Pats are off to a 2-0 start, “rational” may be in shorter supply a few weeks from now) was clearly frustrated with ongoing discussions about the team’s receiving corps. The caller sighed and said, “Guys there’s no depth chart.” This statement seemed to go against common barstool wisdom and fantasy sports management. His point was well received by the hosts and perhaps it had a lot of wisdom in it. Coach Belichick seems to try to put the right personnel in the field for the situation at hand and for the play called. He has a bunch of receivers that are all good at their jobs and have to excel at their unique roles if they want to keep their jobs.
Sometimes I feel like athletes interpret the term “role player” as an insult. In reality doesn’t the term mean, “There’s a valuable role for you on this team.” This actually sounds like a compliment in the increasingly competitive world of sports. We are certainly in a society that spends a lot of time focus on the depth chart… but I must wonder how helpful this is to the striving athlete. Rather than focusing on doing one’s job and improving a bit each day, thoughts drift to a somewhat arbitrary rank order list.
Sometimes I feel like athletes interpret the term “role player” as an insult. In reality doesn’t the term mean, “There’s a valuable role for you on this team.”
This seems to also relate well to hockey. I have sat in many coaches’ offices and seen the line pairings on the magnet board. Sure there is the first line, the second line, and the third line. Is one better than the other? I would be naive to suggest that most first lines would match up evenly with third lines. This being said, at the end of the day there are a few realities: 1. Different line have different roles. I know many first liners that have struggled on third lines, 2. Hockey teams rarely succeed without skating at least three lines, 3. A player that gets a regular shift on any line in the NHL, AHL, or national championship contending NCAA team is a heck of a hockey player and owes it to himself/herself to enjoy every shift. Watching the line pairings and dwelling on line changes does not seem like a great use of an athlete’s time.
Perhaps this all speaks to two challenges to one’s mental game, fan-speak and ego. Depth chart discussions entertain. It is great for fantasy football and an easy way for fans to wrap their minds around the teams in front of them. In the coaches’ offices, training rooms, and locker rooms a far more complex algorithm than ranking players 1 to 100 is used. Beyond this, we all have egos. We have been taught that being number is the American way. We like to be labeled “the best.” With this in mind we are quick to make value judgments on the order in which players roll onto the field. In reality, other than the outcomes when the contests have concluded, sport is filled with more categorical data than we realize (i.e. First line, second line, third line perhaps are better at labeling roles rather than determining value to the team). Depth charts may be great for cocktail parties and draft rooms. Yet depth charts do not win games, players do.
Is there really “no depth chart” in the coach’s office in Foxborough? I doubt it. Yet, the sports radio caller’s point is an excellent one. Depth charts mean so much less than we give them credit for. Furthermore, they are just a distraction to players. A wise player is one that trusts in and understands the dynamic nature of sport… play the game, focus on what you can bring to the competition, and trust that there’s a place for you on the playing field.