As of Thursday, August 31, 2017
A bit like the surgeon’s knife, competition is a sharp tool — but one most useful for surfacing information and piercing illusions.
One of the most valuable things about competition — whether we’re talking about commerce or athletics — is that competition reveals truths we might otherwise choose not to hear about ourselves.
If others are better at the things we want to do — the very things we believe we already do well — do we really want to know? Of course we do.
But what if the truth hurts?
Athletic competition sums up a team, its coaches and players. This competition turns what is hard to see and impossible to calculate into a three-column table anyone can read.
Standings put information bluntly: names, wins and losses.
To soften it for the young, it is often explained:
The best team does not always win. The best coach does not always win. The best players do not always win.
Meanwhile, habits that make one team, one coach or one player better than others are sometimes as plain as the bright lights on the scoreboards.
Watch a team in action long enough, and the quality of the organization and its people eventually becomes apparent. It’s not always obvious what sets one team or another apart from the rest, but sometimes it is.
What do we do when it isn’t?
Some teams, coaches and players excel year after year after year, despite the many problem parts that no person can fully control.
Weather and facility-specific conditions balance against both sides during any given game — yet sometimes snow or mud or the midcourt rafters may favor one side’s strengths, or may help mitigate one’s weaknesses.
While any given game may hinge on the weather or the site, all seasons hinge on injury. Injury luck is by far the number one factor coaches cite when asked to prognosticate about their chances.
It’s not obvious how much control over injury risk teams, coaches and players truly have, but all can (and most do) take some risk management precautions — particularly when it comes to concussions.
In 2016, the Idaho legislature added to the state’s youth sports concussion law, and the Idaho High School Activities Association has a concussion management guide on its website, idhsaa.org, where coaches, parents and athletes are encouraged “to educate themselves about the recognition and treatment of concussions.”
It’s not obvious which teams are best at managing injury risks. Just as the best don’t always win, the best aren’t always injury-free. (A big part of the fun in sports is in not knowing exactly what will happen night-to-night.)
Good or poor performance on injuries does not show up in the standings or on championship banners. Publishing a count of injuries may not reveal the leaders, because severity matters. Even so: every player’s long-term health is potentially at stake, so the future of contact sports is at stake — football, most immediately.
So let’s put it bluntly.
Not every team, coach and player is already as good as can be at concussion management.
Do we want to find out how competitive ours really are?
I hope key organizers can come up with a reliable way of revealing who in our state does sports injury management best.
Some teams, coaches and players are already leading the way — but not everyone else knows whose example to follow.