Wichita State basketball is riding on an undefeated high this year after their dramatic ride to last year’s Final Four in which they coined the phrase “Play Angry” (Click for video) Last week, though, we saw all-everything Oklahoma State guard, Marcus Smart, play angry and a media firestorm was created:
Once again, we’re presented with a dilemma, is playing angry a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s take a closer look.
BASKETBALL – Can you really play angry?
The Shockers of Wichita State are like any other successful organization that identifies a core message, embraces it, and then uses the mantra to rally each other around a common mission. In our corporate society, this idea is drummed into our heads. And while the Shockers embrace “Play Angry”, I think it’s a bit of a misnomer. Relying on any emotion to be the key to your success on the court is a dicey proposition, and as we discussed last year in my article Good Decision Foes: Anger, relying on anger is often fool’s gold. It may help in the short-term and if channeled properly can certainly propel a player or a team to greater heights, but time and time again, we see mistakes made when anger is mismanaged. For example, as I deal with college-aged men I see anger most often in response to referees or with each other during heated drills in practice. As our bench erupts in anger over the lack of a call or a missed call, the tension within the team rises in a hurry. In most circumstances, it works to our disadvantage. It changes our focus and changes our purpose, even though it may feel completely justified! I would suggest that what’s happening at Wichita State is more about their talent and their ability to stand united in embracing their role as a national underdog, whether they’re angry or not. From what I’ve seen, Greg Marshall is a tremendous coach who is optimizing the Shocker talent by keeping them focused and unified.
By all accounts, Marcus Smart seemed to have acted out of character when he shoved the Texas Tech fan last week, but it also seems there’s more to the story. Some of us may focus on the behavior of a middle-aged man taunting a college athlete, especially one who could have jumped to the professional ranks where he would at least be paid to deal with the taunting of professional sports fans. I found articles from Rob Dauster on CollegeBasketballTalk.com and Andrew Sharp from Grantland helpful in getting a little perspective. While Smart’s action are intolerable and he was dealt a three-game suspension and the actions of the Texas Tech fan are extremely troubling, the takeaway for me is how for both individuals this incident was an ongoing pattern of anger that was developing. For Smart, anger has bubbled over in his behavior as his decision to stay in school has turned into a troublesome season.
Wichita State has a cute slogan to rally the troops, but for Smart, playing with anger, rather than dealing with anger, has his team playing without him for its post-season life! So go ahead, Shockers, play angry, cheer angry, and as guard Ron Baker says “Be nice angry,” but I don’t think you are. And as for Smart, we all need to learn the lesson that hopefully he’s tackling. Deal with your anger, don’t play with it.
LIFE – Work angry?
In my career as a coach, I’ve been in situations where coaching angry and working angry were common. Like Wichita State playing angry to prove they deserve respect as a mid-major, I’ve coached in women’s basketball during the rise of Title IX and I’ve coached or taught in private schools struggling to compete with resources. While the anger of being overlooked can provide inspiration to prove others wrong, it can also plant the seeds of frustration and bitterness if not dealt with in positive ways. As I look back, too often the anger that develops within a program, business, or staff creates a tense working environment and that anger can lead to resentment, poor communication, and unclear expectations. It sounds good to work angry, to prove yourself, and to fight for your career, but for many of us, that atmosphere of anger can be a stumbling block. As a result, I’ve experienced and I have many coaching colleagues who have experienced, losing jobs or changing jobs in hopes of finding better situations. The truth, however, is that anger and the lack of dealing with anger, can sour a situation. In the end, it’s better to recognize anger and keep it in proper perspective.
FAITH – The Anger of Jesus
The Bible is filled with reminders and examples of anger, not just the anger we feel, but also the anger of God. You may recall that Jesus felt anger when he saw that God’s temple was being used by moneylenders (Matt. 21:12-15). He felt some pretty intense anger and it led Him to chase them out. The key, though, is not only was His anger justified, but it wasn’t selfish anger and He dealt with the anger quickly and with purpose. By driving the merchants out, He left an important message for all of us about the nature of His mission. Jesus dealt with His anger. He didn’t allow it to interfere with His mission or purpose. He didn’t allow it to grow into bitterness. God feels anger as our world chooses sin and to ignore Him. That’s a theme throughout the Old Testament, but God is patient and kind and has dealt with His anger by sending Jesus to pay the price for our mistakes.
Don’t work angry and don’t live angry. As Solomon tells us (Proverbs 30:33), … “stirring up anger produces strife” and Paul instructs us (Eph. 4:26-27) to deal with our anger “before the sun goes down,” we can learn to keep anger in its proper place.