There’s an economic term I’ve been thinking about lately, and the more I think about it, the more parallels I see to athletics and athletic achievement.
The term is “The Greater Fool.” In economics, the Greater Fool theory says, “the price of an object is determined not by its intrinsic value, but rather by irrational beliefs and expectations of market participants.” The Greater Fool buys long and sells short. Economies need Greater Fools in order for others to profit.
What does that have to do with athletics, athletes or teams? Nothing yet. But here’s the kicker: “a Greater Fool is seen as someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think they can succeed where others have failed,” wrote Aaron Sorkin for an episode of the Newsroom.
Every season, teams set goals, and they are always high. Rarely is a team’s goal to finish in fifth or to not lose as many as last year. In a great many cases, teams with lofty goals have a bit of the Greater Fool in them.
What makes them think they can succeed where others have failed? What’s so special about this year? How many championship teams started the season with what others thought were, “irrational beliefs and expectations?”
No team ever won a championship thinking they were “Okay,” or “Pretty good.” So, yes, ego – in the positive sense -- plays a big part in it. But self-delusion may, in fact, play an even larger role in championships.
To athletes to truly push themselves beyond what they consider their normal capabilities, they have to delude themselves to a certain degree. There is an argument going on in their brains. Do they do what they already know they can, or can they trick their brains into helping them accomplish something new?
An article on Elite Daily, talks about our preference for taking the easy way out.
“Your mind is always going to create a wall. It is naturally weak, and it is waiting for you to strengthen it, so that it might get through anything no matter how tough it may seem. When you stop yourself because you are unsure or feel like there is an easier out, then you are cheating yourself of growth and improvement. Without progress and change you slip into the sedentariness of complacency.
“It’s funny because so many people are afraid of being average, yet they settle for the easy way out,” the article continued. “They take what is in front of them and opt to do the least amount to achieve the bare minimum in their lives. In short, people are afraid of challenges, they have lost their courage and don't know how well they will deal with failure, so they step away and take the easiest route.”
A Greater Fool, when faced with the same set of circumstances, will have the courage to choose the more difficult route, the path where progress is made. When pain arrives it is a warning for some to stop – and for others, a challenge to continue to push their tolerance. When it gets painful, some people’s brains tell them to stop, others to keep pushing.”
Which path will your athletes take?