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Confidence can win games for you

POSTED: December 7, 2013 9:00 a.m.

One of my favorite sports movies of the last couple decades or so is the often-aired "The Replacements." If you’ve never seen this odd amalgamation of Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman and football, then you are missing out.

The general idea of the movie is that the National Football League is on strike (gasp, could it possibly ever happen?) and the football season must move forward with replacement players…hence, the name of the movie.

Keanu Reeves is a once-standout college quarterback from Ohio State who threw a dud in the final game of his college career, the 1996 Sugar Bowl. As a bit of movie trivia for you, Adam Sandler’s character in the remake of "The Longest Yard," also played a quarterback from Florida State who intentionally played poorly in the 1996 Sugar Bowl and lost.

How is it that nobody actually won the 1996 Sugar Bowl, then? Because, well, there wasn’t one. While the Sugar Bowl is generally played on or after New Year’s Day, the Sugar Bowl for the 1995 season was actually played on New Year’s Eve, and thus in 1995. Then, the Sugar Bowl for the 1996 season was played on New Year’s Day of 1997, so technically speaking, there was no Sugar Bowl in 1996.

Anyway, Reeves’ character of Shane Falco loses one replacement game on the last play when he hands the ball off to his running back instead of running the passing play that his coach, Hackman, called. After the loss on the final play, Hackman’s football coach approaches Shane Falco and says a rather inspirational bit of wisdom to him: "Winner’s always want the ball when the game is on the line."

The point he’s trying to make is that a winning player has the confidence to take the game in his or her hands when the time comes to make a play. Instead, Falco wanted to push the responsibility for the game off on somebody else.

You’ll have to go see the movie (which is probably on TBS right now, as it always is) to see how Hackman’s inspirational speech guided the outcome of the movie, but wait just a minute, first. Let me finish explaining myself.

I do not mean to say that there is any merit in being a ball hog or a showboat, because there isn’t, but there is a beauty in confident athletes. You can be a confident athlete without being a boastful athlete, too, but there is a certain excellence that comes with confidence, and likewise confidence that comes with excellence.

I’ve been to quite a few basketball games over the last few weeks, and there is something that you’ll notice at a lot of high school basketball games. If a team is perhaps under-manned or not as confident in their abilities, they will often slow down the game and try to pass the ball around more, trying to make something happen.

The problem with that comes when nobody on the team is confident enough to take a shot or move the ball, so the opposing team has time to set up their defense and steal the ball or make rebounds.

I was talking with a mentor of mine the other day, a man who spent four years playing college basketball and who’s daughter coaches a middle school team in a neighboring county, and he explained to me that an under-talented team will find more success by picking up the pace and playing confident basketball.

Winder-Barrow’s Coach Garren said much the same thing to me after his team came from behind in the fourth quarter to win their first region game of the season against Flowery Branch. How did they do it? They picked up the pace and got some open shots.

While it goes against common thought to say that a less talented team would do better to play faster basketball than the opponent, it makes sense. The faster a team moves, the more likely they are to catch the opponent off-guard or force mistakes.

But if a team knows that they are probably not as talented or as fundamentally sound as an opponent, then how do they find it in their heart to move with speed up and down the court?


A team has to be confident that they can move the ball no matter what. A team has to know that they can move the ball against a taller, maybe even faster opponent. You can practice fundamentals and you can practice schemes all you want, but unless a team has the confidence to put a plan into action, then all the practice in the world can only go so far.

What’s more, maybe you don’t even have to always be confident that you’re going to win. Perhaps the only confidence you need is the confidence that you yourself have the capability to go out and put on the best game you can put on.

When that kind of confidence begins to take root in who you are and in how you play, then that kind of confidence will push you on to win.

If nothing else, playing a sport confidently is a lot more fun than playing a sport without the expectation or the will to win, and you can hardly have one without the other.

Chipper Jones used to say that what made the Braves so special during the miracle 90’s run was that the Braves expected to win every time they stepped on the field. Do you expect to win when you step on the court?

If not, are you really playing to win?



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