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The white line under the jumping man’s shadow is the “baseline”

I love to play tennis. Before I learned tennis or even knew it existed, I learned badminton. I love badminton as well as table tennis and racquetball. Now, living in San Diego, the weather gods are kind enough to shine sun and blue and warm so that tennis is often possible seven days a week. Unfortunately, my 75 year old body has issues with playing every day.

Before COVID, I went to the gym every other day and lifted. I still exercise my muscles but I can’t quite make it as effective as using real weights. Lack of strength and having flat feet combine to put a lot of stress on my feet and knees. Before COVID (will we call this “BC” at some point?) my strength was good. I was nearly as strong as when I was 16. 

As it turns out though, lifting strength is not the only factor that determines how well you can run and jump. The body has, in effect, a number of “springs.” When someone runs (at least when a young person runs), fully half of the power for a running stride comes from the rebound of internal springs which provide power from the previous stride. Our human running springs are primarily the arch, the Achilles tendon and the quad muscles. 

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My own arches, sadly, have never worked properly. When I step down forcefully, rather than compressing and expanding, my foot slips inward and does not rebound. But the muscles and tendons have also become less resilient with time. Wearing orthotics helps align my body and lessens pain in the arches. But orthotics do not provide the “bounce” of the natural bone arch as it rebounds from the previous step. Nonetheless, I enjoy playing tennis. It’s good for the body, the soul, and the mind. 

I enjoy playing singles but I mainly play doubles. And doubles also provides a variety of lessons (and challenges) in teamwork. 

Here’s one. 

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Consider that you are positioned near the baseline of the court (far away from the net) and someone hits a ball right at you. As it turns out, it is much much easier for your partner to tell whether this shot is going to be long or not than it is for you yourself to tell. Just today, for instance, I was standing just inside the baseline when a deep shot was hit right at me, about waist high. My partner yelled, “BOUNCE!” I let it go. I might mention that my partner’s eyesight is not so good as mine is. I’m not putting him down. That’s just a fact. Nonetheless, I prepared to hit the ball out of the air until I heard my partner yell “BOUNCE!” When that happened I pivoted and let it fly by me, turning so I’d have a good at where it landed. Two inches out.

It turns out that a similar kind of teamwork is important in the outfield of a baseball game. If you are playing in the outfield and a long fly ball is hit toward you, it is devilishly difficult to tell whether the ball is going to land near you, in front of you, or behind you. When a well-coached team plays, the outfielders will call out to one another and give guidance about whether a ball hit directly to another outfielder is going to land in front of them, roughly where they are or far behind them. In a poorly coached team, they do not help each other in this way. 

In a well-coached team, the fielder who is not going to catch a high fly ball does not simply “zone out” and think, “not my play.” Instead, they are still cognizant of their ability and responsibility to help out their teammate who is going to catch the ball, even though they are nowhere near that teammate. Competition for fame, fortune, recruiting, salary, etc. all push toward not helping each other out. But normal people on normal teams actually have a normal reaction to want to help the others on their team. Good coaching enhances a feeling of teamwork. It also involves explaining, at least to the younger players, the ways in which they can help each other. Calling “Forward” or “Back” to a fellow fielder is only one of the many ways teammates in baseball can help each other. 

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The man behind the mask (the Catcher) and the outfielder trying to throw a player out who is trying to score — that is a delicate sort of dance so that the outfielder throws the ball the spot where the Catcher can most likely tag the runner (advancing player) out. 

For a team to function at the highest level, there has to be both the skill to know how to coordinate and mutual trust. Mutual trust means everyone looks out for each other and wants everyone  to succeed. Some teams lack one or both of these qualities. If they lack both, it will be nothing more than a set of individuals doing assigned tasks. That is both less effective and a whole lot less joyous way to play Baseball or Tennis. (Or, Life, for that matter). 

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Perhaps you’re not a fan of tennis or baseball but you like golf. Watch one of the most prestigious tournaments of all, the Masters, played at the remarkably beautiful Augusta National. The winners of the Green Jacket show their excitement with a riotous palette of smiles, tears, cheers, and beaming. Regardless of how the excitement is exhibited, the winner shows a lot of excitement. That level of excitement does not, however, even begin to compare to the degree of excitement that the victors exhibit in the Solheim Cup competition nor the Ryder Cup where teams are competing against each other. 

There’s no comparison, to my eyes; or, in my own experience. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win an individual match. I am very competitive, likely too competitive. But I still experience a team victory as — not only more joyous. It’s a different level of joy. A private victory is much like a bite of my favorite food; perhaps a handful of cashews. I love cashews. 

But a team victory? That is more like going out to dinner (if you can still remember BC times) at a wonderful and unique restaurant. I think this feeling is nearly universal. The intensity and even quality of that feeling depends on the quality of the teamwork. If the team really knows how to work together and has the empathy and motivation to do so, and if that teamwork is largely the source of the victory, it is all the sweeter. 

The best teams have the skill and the motivation to cooperate well. Mediocre teams will lack one or the other of those qualities. Poor teams will have neither the desire to cooperate nor the skill to do so. But there is a fifth type of “team”: one composed of people who are actively working against each other. This is like a cancer in an organization.

If Susan sees Charlie fail to help Barbara as promised, Barbara will be less likely to help Charlie. She may even help him fail. But Susan does not remain unaffected either. She may also try to avenge Barbara. Or, she may say to herself, “Well, hell, if Charlie can get away with blaming someone else for his mistakes, why can’t I?” Mistrust, disloyalty, inefficiency, high turnover rates, actual violence in the workplace, absenteeism, theft  — just as you would expect, higher costs are associated with all of these things and all of these things are more common in a toxic environment — one where people cannot trust each other. 

In tennis, the on-court team is only two players. You might think the cooperation is simple. It’s more complicated than that. Believe me — or don’t — but it would be another whole essay to explain. One factor that’s important in all types of teamwork is mutual trust. If my partner says “BOUNCE!” and I let it go repeatedly only to watch it drop well in bounds, I’m eventually not going to trust those judgements of my partner any more.

Notice that trust broken is difficult to bounce back from. And, like arches, muscles, and tendons, when a society gets older, it may well have less “bounce” when it comes to forgiving betrayals. Perhaps the same is true for individuals. 

I don’t know. But it seems to me (as a liberal) as though Trumpists believe liberals are betraying Trump. But why should a liberal have any loyalty whatsoever to Trump. Initially, I felt some loyalty to the Office of the Presidency, and was willing to watch him with an open mind, but he has shredded trust like a pet hamster named Liberty that fell in the document shredder. Only, in the case of Trump, the pet hamster didn’t just fall in the shredder. Poor Liberty was thrown into the shredder. And, when the legless and hapless hamster tried to squirm its way out, he grabbed a handy Barr to push it back in. 

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There’s something even worse, from my perspective. My “teammates” on the “other side of the aisle” are being conned. From my perspective, over here, on the side, it is painfully obvious. To them, it is not obvious. The cons are coming right at them like a high line drive and they cannot see how deep these shots are or how close they take us to the brink of a fascist dictatorship or utter anarchy. 

I try to tell them, “BACK! BACK!” But instead of going back, or asking someone else, they continually insist they are not being conned. And then, they ask me why I hate America and hate Baseball. (Neither of those are true, by the way). 

The ball falls over their head; the other team is scoring runs; and they deny that anything ever happened! They don’t only deny they were not back far enough. They deny there was a ball even hit to them. Or, they insist that they are free and as such, they don’t have to back up just because I say so. 

They don’t even run back and get the ball that landed behind them! Someone else has to do that. I look at the scoreboard, and what I see is this:

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COVID19 — 300,000 dead
America – 12,000,000 unemployed

They apparently look at the scoreboard and see:

Liberal Hoax — 300,000 supposedly dead

DOW —————30,000

Donald Trump worked from day one of his Presidency to put our American “team” in the fifth and last category: a divided team without mutual trust. 

We have the skills of teamwork. We have the motivation to act as a team. What is missing is trust. Americans do have the skills to cooperate across every kind of divide. Most Americans do have the desire to work together on some serious problems such as immigration reform, sensible gun control, addressing climate change, increasing employment, decreasing crime, improving our standing in the world, stopping systemic racism. I don’t say all Americans share these goals, but most do. At a more fundamental level, we all want a shot at a decent life and a chance that our kids will do even better. That’s what most people want. We can get all of that and more with teamwork. 

The hardest part of that will be recovering and rebuilding mutual trust. There has been colossal betrayal that goes way beyond policy differences between liberals and conservatives or between Democrats and Republicans. Until the Trump administration, there was an expectation of truth; there was an expectation of hiring excellence for the government; there was an expectation that we would face a common enemy like Russia together; there was an expectation that we would all take an oath of office seriously; there was an expectation that people in high places would not, with absolute impunity, line their own pockets from the public treasury. There was an expectation that a President of the United States of America would tell the truth about a deadly pandemic and not spread lies about it and model lethal behavior. There was an expectation that both Republicans and Democrats would put our Democracy and the legitimacy of our elections ahead of conning followers out of millions of dollars just to line the pockets of Donald J. Trump. 

All those expectations were broken. Trust was broken. Now, we have to try to see that we’re on the same team and work together.

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We can do it. But it won’t be easy. 

The most important thing that liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, and independents can focus on is that our election worked. I don’t just mean that the technology worked or the process worked. What’s most important is that the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats worked together to make that election happen and be counted and be reported. Yes, there were some high-ranking high-profile Republicans who seemed to be joining the Trump “Let’s Destroy America!” Train; the Trump “If you don’t want me, fine! I’ll burn your silly little democracy down on the way out!” Train. But thousands and thousands of people of all political stripes and all across this country came together to make it work. People in the Great Plains worked together; people in small towns worked together; people in large cities worked together — Republicans and Democrats.

Those who supported Trump need to understand that we were not trying to rain on their parade or hate on them. We were trying to tell them that the damned ball was going over their head! They were being conned! (And many still are). Being conned can happen to anyone. And it’s pretty much always the case that it’s easier to see from the side as shown in the following dialogue.

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Grandpa: “Oh, Grandson! You’ll never guess what happened today. I got a letter in the mail from this really nice man in Kremblinia and he’s giving me…us, really… a million dollars! Isn’t that amazing!” 

Grandson: “Grandpa. No-one gives away a million dollars!”

Grandpa: “No, no. You don’t understand. It’s not exactly a give away. He can’t get to his money because of political problems in Kremblinia. You know. It’s in Africa. I guess they have corruption there.” 

[Au: There!!??]

Grandson: “It’s still a scam.”

Grandpa: “No, it’s real. He just needs my bank routing number so he can wire me the money into my account.” 

Grandson: “You didn’t give it to him, did you?” 

Grandpa: “Of course I did! You think I’ll turn down the opportunity of a lifetime? Why are you being so negative?” 

Grandson: “Call the bank. Quick. He’s going to rob your account!”

Grandpa: “Let me just show you the letter. You can just tell he’s sincere. He’s very religious actually. He was taken from his mother when he just a little kid. Horrible. They do that there. Anyway, he became a Prince in this whole region, but then the Muslims came in. I forget all the details. I’ll show you next time you come over. You’ll see.” 

[Au: There??!!]

Grandson: “CALL THE BANK! Before it’s too late!”



My Cousin Bobby

Essays on America: The Stopping Rule

Essays on America: The Update Problem

Essays on America: Wednesday

Ramming Your Head into a Brick Wall Doesn’t Make you a Hero

Index of Best Practices in Collaboration and Teamwork

Author Page on Amazon

The Winning Weekend Warrior — book on sports psychology