Advice From the Batman: Play to Win
Last weekend my two sons Adam and Eric came over to the house for a big event: to watch “Zach Snyder’s Justice League.”
First off let me say that while the movie is more than four hours long it was time well-spent. Not only because I got to spend that kind of time with two of my favorite people in the world but also because the movie is everything the fans who pushed for it to be released hoped it would be.
If you like epic comic book movies where the characters have real motivations, and lots of action, and you have access to HBO Max (or know someone who does) be sure to check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a little taste:
Ok, on to softball.
After battling the villain Steppenwolf (and losing), the heroes (sans Superman) are all in the Batcave talking about what their next move is. One of them (can’t remember who, did I say it was a four hour long movie?) makes a suggestion for a strategy. Then the Batman says something profound – something to the effect of:
“That’s just playing not to lose. All that does is delay how long it takes you to lose. We need to play to win.”
What a great concept. Playing not to lose just delays how long it takes you to lose.
Think about that in a softball context, especially now that nearly every travel softball game has a time limit. How many times have you seen coaches call time out for an unnecessary mound conference, or had their hitters go to the plate and slowly tie their shoes, or do some other stall tactic to try to get the “drop dead” alert to go off before they have to do anything?
Plenty, I’m sure.
They may think they’re playing to win, but really they’re playing not to lose. The message they’re sending to their team is either “I don’t think we can beat this team straight up but we’re ahead right now so let’s take it” or “I’m afraid you guys will do something to screw up this victory so I’m not going to give you the chance.”
And yes, the result might be that they win that game. But all it really did was delay how long it will take them to get knocked out.
Winners play to win.
Let’s look at another situation – the coach who doesn’t want her team taking any chances. Don’t throw down to first to try to pick off the runner because you might throw the ball into right field. Don’t try to hit the ball hard with two strikes, just make contact. Don’t throw a drop ball with two strikes because the catcher might miss it.
Those are all things great players do. But this coach isn’t looking for great. She’s looking to not lose because of a mistake.
Now, there are definitely times to be conservative in your approach. But not all the time. That’s playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
The problem with playing not to lose is you put your fate into someone else’s hands. Yes, you’ve minimized your mistakes, but you’ve also minimized your ability to rise above your current level of play to become something greater.
And if every player on the team is afraid to make a mistake, maybe because the coach will scream at her or yank her out of the game in the middle of an inning, the team will never come close to fulfilling its potential. Instead, it will just be trying to hold on for as long as it can until a team that wants it more comes and takes it away from them.
It’s like they say in the grossly underrated comedy “Fired Up!” – you’ve gotta risk it to get the biscuit.
Sure, it’s riskier to play to win than to play not to lose. But what’s the point of playing if you’re not playing to win?
Coaches, teach your players to be confident in their abilities even when it might be easier to just lay back and tie their shoes for five minutes. It’s better for them, and in the long run it will be better for you as well.
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