Despite Turbulent Times, Optimism Makes Sense

All around us friends are unemployed, businesses are struggling, retirement funds are dwindling and the media assures us that there are no signs of improvement. Yet in the midst of our troubles, we are not prone to throw in the towel.

On college campuses around the United States, football teams have been playing their spring practice games. For several reasons, these spring rituals are quite popular.

One reason is that in most cases they are free. This means that avid fans who cannot afford the ever-escalating regular season ticket prices are allowed into the stadium gratis for this one exhibition game. When the actual season arrives and they will watch the games on TV, they’ll enjoy warm memories of their time on the fifty yard line.

Another reason: Devoted football fans have been unable to see a college game for three or four months. They are hungry for action. They want to see the long kicks and passes, hear the band play, and buy pretzels and soft drinks from a vendor. If they don’t now, they’ll have to wait another few months.

A third reason: Fans want to get some indication of the talent available for next season’s team. Who will win the starting quarterback spot? Will the defense reduce the number of scores it allowed last year?

Yes, as the intra-squad game approaches, excitement mounts, with sportswriters and broadcasters adding to the hype. Football fans jam the highways to get the best parking and stadium seats. In fact, a couple of years ago 93,000 fans showed up at the University of Alabama to watch new coach Nick Saban’s debut.

However, a strange thing happens with these games. Ten minutes into the game, people lose interest. Spectators talk to the people they came with, and to others around them. Many of them wonder what all the hoopla was about.

Why does a long-anticipated game become boring so quickly?

First, this really isn’t a game. You see, there’s no opponent—just your favorite team divided into two unofficial squads playing each other. Your alma mater will neither win nor lose.

Second, the rules barely resemble an actual game. Instead of the regulation fifteen minute quarters, the scrimmage game allots eight to ten minute quarters. The quarterback wears a different colored jersey, and you are surprised what this indicates. Nobody can tackle him. You mean we came all this way to watch touch football? That’s right. Ho hum again.

Third, play selection will be bland at best. After all, scouts from next year’s opponents will be watching—if not in person, then on television. The result: Very little opportunity for razzle-dazzle.

What am I driving at with this overview of spring football games? Exactly this: In sports, life, and business, we prefer real competition to bland imitations. Watered-down contests might sound appealing, yet almost instantly we will yearn for the real thing.

Consider this example: Did you ever have a job–even for a few months–that demanded very little effort? If so, what was that like for you? Typically:

  • The clock never seemed to move.
  • You missed getting revved up over a challenging assignment
  • You never felt pride in accomplishing something big
  • Your motivation plummeted

Now here is the really good news: As stressed as all of us are about massive job losses, failing industries, shrinking portfolios, and life style changes, innately we are geared to compete. We prefer action to apathy, battle to boredom.

In conclusion: No one I know welcomes what’s happening to highly capable people who have worked diligently, invested, and planned carefully. Even so, our unbroken optimism is well founded. People still respect and live by President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous statement that the “credit actually belongs” to the person in the arena, who “knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.”

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