ACK!! John Smoltz blew a five run lead last night and the Braves lost. But, here's the quote from Manager Bobby Cox:
"He just got some pitches down the middle. Nothing is wrong with him. It's just location."
Given the Braves' record under Mr. Cox, one has to think that he may be on to some pretty sound management approaches to working with talent. From casual reading, it seems he attributes success to core qualities of the individuals involved and failure either to bad luck, external factors, or short term things that will correct themselves. Here, it's just that "He got some pitches down the middle." Not, "His location is bad." The first suggests that everyone's going to throw some pitches down the middle sometimes, Smoltzie happened to do it last night, and of course he'll be hitting his spots next time out. It's a matter of promoting an optimistic outlook.
I've mentioned the role of an optimistic attributional style before, and it has a specific application to sports. For those who might not want to scroll down to this part of my book note, I'm putting the notes on the chapter on sports from Learned Optimism in the cotinuation of this post.
Chapter Nine: Sports
This chapter was amazing for me, not least because it dealt with baseball. (Thank you, Tyler , for giving me in appreciation of this sport.) In 1985, Dr. Seligman and his team read all of the sports pages in the hometown papers of each National League team. They "CAVEd" every explanatory statement by every player and manager, then repeated the effort for 1986 -- about 15,000 pages of sports reporting. They found that teams with optimistic explanatory styles performed better under pressure (defined as hitting with runners in scoring position during the last three innings) in 1986 and finished with better records than their 1985 performance would have suggested.
Earlier, they had read all of the hometown sports pages for each team in the NBA Atlantic division for all of 1982 and 1983. Using the “spread" of the betting world as a method for compensating for differences in talent, they looked at how each team responded to adversity, defined as how they did against the spread in the game following a loss. Once again, explanatory style accounted for the differences.
Finally, in 1988, Dr. Seligman worked with the University of California Berkeley swim team to determine which swimmers responded best under adversity. In this case, adversity was defined as how they performed in their next event after a sub-par performance. Matt Biondi had one of the most optimistic explanatory styles. In the Summer Olympics in 1988 in Seoul , Korea , the media were talking of Biondi's chances of winning seven gold medals a la Mark Spitz in 1972. Knowledgeable observers, however, thought seven medals of any type against the competition in Seoul would be an accomplishment. Biondi took a disappointing bronze in the first event and, in an apparent mental error, coasted the last meter of the 100-meter buttyerfly (not his best event) and lost the gold by inches. The media buzzed with speculation as to how he would respond. Dr. Seligman was confident that, in accordance with his explanatory style, he would respond with top performances. Dr. Seligman was right. Biondi swept gold in the last five events!