Penalty Kicks and Free Throws… Again

I don’t watch soccer/football much, in fact, seldom, but I did end up watching the World Cup semi-final match between the Netherlands and Argentina… and the result underscored something I’ve said before, except with regard to basketball. Mastery of the simpler aspects of anything is key to continued success.

The Netherlands and Argentina played to a scoreless tie after regulation, and then after another 30 minute additional period the game was still scoreless.  Argentina converted four out of four penalty kicks in the shoot-out, while the Netherlands failed on two out of three attempts. While a penalty kick isn’t nearly as easy as a basketball free-throw, it’s far, far easier than scoring a goal in play, when it’s often difficult to even get near the goal with the ball, let alone get a clear shot.  Argentina made that abundantly clear, by not being able to score a single goal in two hours of play, but by putting four out of four shots in the goal in the shoot-out.  The Netherlands lost by not being able to accomplish the simpler tasks in the game.

This “case study” goes well beyond soccer or basketball.  I’ve seen people lose jobs because they failed to write a simple thank you note, or to recognize a former colleague or superior in a different setting.  I’ve seen more than one beginning writer destroy/abort his or her career by arguing violently with editors who have seen scores of writers come and go.  I’ve seen political careers tanked because no one asked a simple question – How did things get this way? – before going off in a direction that considering the answer would have most likely precluded.  I’ve seen singers lose competitions because, when talents were evenly balanced, the singer with more carefully chosen attire and polite mannerisms topped sloppy dress and flip mannerisms. And in all these cases, and others, the individuals involved were anything but stupid.  They just relied on their innate brilliance or talent and ignored mastery of simple skills.

A successful writer needs more than mere story-telling ability and more than mere skill with words, and, more than sometimes, some of those extras are simple skills, such as tact, thank-you notes [NOT emails,unless you’re in the tech world, where hand-written or print thank-yous have become a symbol of backwardness], and a certain amount of respect for those who control one’s fate.  And, oh yes, just plain showing up on time…or getting manuscripts in on time — and, here George R. R. Martin is the exception who proves the rule.

6 thoughts on “Penalty Kicks and Free Throws… Again”

  1. Frank says:

    I once taught some Martial Arts, a very long time ago, Korean Karate. It was my passion for about a decade, and I did, and to an extent, still find the experience very rewarding.

    In Martial Art, any I’ve been exposed to, the idea of having to master the basic movements and postures is very central to the core of the art, both philosophically and, in a very real sense, physically. If you don’t, if you try to “get by” on natural talent(s)you find out, sooner or later, how very bad a mistake it is. If you’re lucky, you find out sooner, because the injury(ies) are generally less intense and require less healing time. If you are “so good” that you get by until later…the experience of finding out can be very painful, indeed.

    I think this says something about life in general. People have varying degrees of natural talent and abilities, but you just can’t bypass the basics. There is (in my experience) always a price to pay for having a flawed foundation…no matter how good you are.

  2. Nick says:

    I’ve seen something similar when it comes to job applications. A collegue of mine throws every CV she receives that’s not done with a “professional looking” font (defined by her as: TNR, arial or courier) or that is not on white paper straight into the reject pile. Her reasoning is that if you can’t present yourself professionally on your CV, why should she trust you to present the organisation professionally on funding applications, or clincial reports.

    1. Tim says:

      @Nick. Whilst I can understand your colleague’s method I suspect her motives are actually different. I would suspect that in this economic climate she gets so many applications that she just operates a basic filter, and so chose these criteria.

      I remember once needing to recruit a database specialist. We were bombarded from the agencies all using similar standard proformas and all equally upbeat in content. After a few interviews where the applicants had clearly been told to embellish their CVs, we discarded all those ‘professional’ looking ones and focussed on those which had a difference. Far more interesting 🙂

  3. Plovdiv says:

    Brazil did not master the basics either, as they relied too heavily on one play and left themselves open to the disaster that was their match against Germany. It’s a very simple idea that most people don’t seem to understand: put the foundations in, and build from their.

  4. Darcherd says:

    I was privileged many years ago to take a university course on the music of Beethoven. One thing the professor stressed that stuck with me over the years is that, while Beethoven was truly a musical revolutionary, such that music was never the same after him, he had an exemplary grounding in the fundamentals of music and music theory. This included significant exposure to the music and technique of J.S. Bach (which was unusual in that Bach was nowhere near as famous nor highly regarded in Beethoven’s time has he has become subsequently). The key point for Beethoven’s music was that he understood the rules and fundamentals so thoroughly that when he chose to break them and do something radically different, it was a conscious choice and not carelessness or ignorance, which was why his “rule-breaking” still worked musically.

  5. Indeed! Had a certain player struck the ball in a fundamentally sound way near the end of regulation time, the US team would have won its game in the round of 16 in the recent World Cup. Though I could not have gotten myself to that player’s position — I never had the height, speed, or skill set necessary for playing at a level above high school, had I been there, the ball would not have gone over the crossbar. I was sound on fundamentals, which was the only thing that allowed me to play at the level of a starter on my high-school varsity team.

    When I was really young, I played baseball; the only thing at which I excelled was bunting. It irks me, no end, to watch players attempt to bunt, players earning salaries four or five orders of magnitude larger than mine. Even pitchers, at least National League pitchers, cannot seem to lay down an effective bunt; not reliably, anyway. Granted, no one plays small ball anymore, not in the Bigs, but pitchers are still asked to bunt with regularity.

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