By Ken Reed

A quick break from the ugly side of sports today.

First, Jonah Keri has written a great article on the importance of fun in a winning culture. He profiles the coaching methods and style of three of the best coaches/managers in pro sports today: Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks.

I have long advocated for the need for more humanistic coaching styles — from the pros to the youth level. The pushback has always been that in order to win at the highest levels, coaches must be autocratic, no-nonsense leaders out of the Vince Lombardi and Bobby Knight molds. Well, Keri and his subjects, Kerr, Maddon and Carroll certainly discredit that notion. The Warriors title in 2015 was their first in 40 years and they were a game away from repeating last season. The Seahawks Super Bowl win in 2014 was the franchise’s first and they’ve been a title contender for several years now. Madden, along with president Theo Epstein, have turned the Cubs, long called baseball’s Lovable Losers, into baseball’s best team.

“Kerr is one the most prominent advocates of something which a generation ago might have seemed like a novelty in sports: preaching the idea of fun,” writes Keri.

“The grind of a long season, the pressure of playing in the spotlight, the close quarters players must keep with each other for six months or more … all of these can create tension, mental fatigue, and conflict. By making fun a central tenet of their locker room culture, Kerr — along with leading fun advocates like Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll — believe they can unlock a competitive advantage that’s tough to quantify, but still real.”

Studies show that athletes who focus on having fun vs. performing well are more relaxed, creative, and “in the zone” more often. In short, they enjoy sports more and, as a bonus, perform better.

“Nothing, according to the research, predicts excellence like finding the task fun,” says sociologist Alfie Kohn.

With the success of Kerr, Maddon and Carroll, let’s hope more coaches across the country — at all levels — adopt more humanistic coaching methods and leave the Lombardi approach for the history books. Hard work and having fun aren’t mutually exclusive.

A second positive from this past week comes via Major League Baseball. It’s the inspiring story of Stephen Cardullo. Cardullo is an aging rookie who was just called up to the bigs by the Colorado Rockies this week.

Yesterday, he had a day on the diamond right out of Fantasyland.

A quick recap of his journey: First, nobody offers Cardullo a scholarship to play in college. He walks on at Florida State and makes the team. He ends up being a lower round draft pick but gets chopped after a couple years in the minors. Nobody picks him up. Instead of reading the writing on the wall and looking for a new career, he plays independent ball (where dreams go to die) for not one, not two, but four years! He finally gets an invite to spring training with the Rockies this season and makes the cut. Then he has a great year at Albuquerque. A couple first basemen ahead of Cardullo in the Rockies’ pecking order get hurt or underperform so the Rockies finally give Cardullo a shot. On his 29th birthday (yesterday), the Rockies have a split doubleheader scheduled. In the first game, Cardullo pinch hits and gets his first MLB homer in a Rockies victory. Then in the second game he hits a grand slam to give the Rockies a 5-1 lead (one they would later blow in the 9th inning).

Nevertheless, what an awesome birthday present for a guy who most of baseball had written off years ago.

The Cardullo story is one of the reasons we love sports What a cool case study in perseverance and self-belief.

I’d love to see the fairy tale continue for Cardullo. He represents the human spirit at its best!

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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