The Olympics are almost over, and I will miss them when they're gone. I love the Olympics. Sports I never think about let alone watch enter the consciousness for a week or two every four years, and that amount of time I think is just right. Don't ask me to follow High Bar between now and Rio 2016. But at that time I'll be glued -- and maybe even wondering what happened to that moppy-haired Dutch guy from the London Games. Maybe.
You don't need a Ph.D. in the Tampa 2 to love football, and likewise being an expert in each of these sport's nuances is not necessary to enjoy watching people play. The key is that at the essence of every sport it's me versus you, and that is appealing to watch. Judo, platform diving, beach volleyball, whatever. One-on-one -- or, in the case of beach volleyball, two-on-two.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings. Know who they are yet? They just won Olympic gold on the beach for the third straight time, and in those three efforts they lost only one of 43 sets played. I didn't expect to watch much of it but I became drawn in by their story -- their coming out of retirement to again dominate the sport they helped make famous.
In individual sports (and for this I'm including a sport that's two-on-two) I always seem to root for the favorite, whereas in team sports it's the reverse. I'm looking for something memorable, for greatness. Winning a gold medal in something is by itself not enough for me to remember you. I need Usain Bolt winning back-to-back in two signature events. I root for him. And I realized I was also rooting for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings.
Now, I'll never play beach volleyball. At my moment of greatest satisfaction watching them I never thought to take up the sport. I might be open to watching you play it, but we'll see. However, I think there is a good lesson to take from these two.
They never looked negative.
In the sports I play, and in the sports you play, ask yourself two questions: How often do you look negative, and do you think it helps you to do so? My answers are too often and absolutely not. Whenever I mutter a negative comment or swing my golf club in frustration I quickly realize that I've probably by doing that given my opponent an edge. It's easier to relax and play well when you think your opponent is struggling with something. So why give them that?
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings never gave anyone they played at these Olympics the slightest reason to think they were cracking. Of course much of that comes from their confidence in knowing that they've been champions. But that doesn't mean they're above doubting themselves, or each other. Tiger Woods slams his club. Serena Williams, perhaps the best competitor I've ever seen, can yell at herself. When she does that, those are the matches she loses. Done sparingly this negativity can help the athlete. But no doubt it helps their opponents.
Sports is hard enough to win at. In golf, tennis, basketball or whatever you play, my advice from being a professional spectator is that it's better to keep all that negative stuff to yourself. Don't give the other guy a lift. And don't waste your energy. Don't overreact to a bad shot; they happen to the best of them.
Beach volleyball now returns to its regularly scheduled place in my sports programming: irrelevance until the next Olympics. But I'm glad to say that by watching it in these Games that its champions taught me something.