Brett Favre has been the topic of two of my recent blogs on building team cohesiveness and commitment. I was prepared to shift gears this week when Favre pulled off one of his patented comebacks Sunday afternoon. Trailing the San Francisco 49'ers 24-20, Favre led the Minnesota Vikings on an 80-yard drive that culminated on a 32-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left. The pass was incredible, and the catch by Greg Lewis may have been even better.
I watched the end of the game with my two sons, Jack and Adam, along with my friend Shawn and his kids Quinn and Delaney. As the Vikings won, our house turned to chaos, with four little kids ranging in age from two to seven screaming and yelling with joy, not all of them knowing exactly why they were screaming and yelling, but all aware that something good had happened.
Later that night, my older son Jack (7 years old, and a diehard football fan already) was recounting the Vikings final drive. I could sense the excitement in his voice building as he kept talking about the amazing comeback victory. It was at that point I realized that for the past several hours I had been missing a teachable moment about hope. I proceeded to ask Jack, "So do you think the Vikings comeback can teach us anything?". As the son of a psychologist, he's probably already tired of the Socratic Method, but he still plays along most of the time. Jack responded, "It shows we should never give up, dad." While it's easier to say those words than actually live them, what sweet words to hear out of a child's mouth. In fact, we know from decades of research that an optimistic view on life is helpful in the following domains:
5) Physical health
6) Psychological well-being
It is hard to believe something as simple as optimism can benefit us in so many ways. Essentially, being an optimist provides all sorts of advantages because we approach activities with excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and motivation. We engage with a mindset that we can succeed. Moreover, in cases when we do fail, optimism also helps us bounce back quicker and stronger. Martin Seligman has done a tremendous amount of work in the area of learned optimism. Seligman has demonstrated that learned optimism provides a buffer against all sorts of stressors, and helps us in broader ways (physically and psychologically) than any flu vaccine!
Favre's teammates acknowledged that his presence in the huddle had a calming effect during the waning moment's of the game, even after Favre had made a poor throw to end their previous drive. "He's just a special player," Antoine Winfield said. "I've been on the other side of games like that, where you're afraid, because they got one minute left, and he's got the ball. But I'm glad he's on our side now. He's just got that aura about him."
Offensive linemen Bryant McKinneie and Steve Hutchinson concurred: "Honestly, on that drive, it felt like we actually could do it," McKinnie said. "Sometimes, when you're in that situation, you're like, 'I don't know.' You second guess and you question. But on that drive, we were like, 'We can do this.'" Hutchinson added, "Years past, we probably would have lost".
Of course, Favre may have projected a more confident air than he felt inside. After the game, he said, "I know what I was thinking. 'We blew our chances.' I was thinking, 'Yeah, we got one more shot,' but just like everyone else in the building, a little too late. Now that's not to say I don't go out and sling it."
In another NFL story connected to hope, the Detroit Lions finally WON. The Lions went 0-16 in 2008, the first time an NFL team had ever done that. After two losses this season, they finally snapped their 19-game losing streak. Watching the final moments, it was a rare time when we see pro athletes revert to their childhood joy and exuberance. Players on the Lions couldn't watch they were so nervous. After the game, they celebrated as if they had won the Super Bowl Championship. Their coach even had them go back on the field after the game to continue a celebration. Reality will hit them Tuesday at practice, but the Lions, for the first time in a long time, have some HOPE.
I began thinking more about the powerful role sports play in our culture. I was struck by how many opportunities I miss where I can talk with my sons Jack and Adam about valuable lessons we can all learn from sports. Rather than mindlessly watching a game, we can all be inspired by noticing the desire and passion a team has when their back is against the wall.
Kids who grow up hopeful believe they can do things for themselves, for others, and that they can make the world a little better place. As parents, it doesn't take much for us to provide our children with daily doses of hope and optimism, two powerful vaccines that take little time to manufacture, are in endless supply, and can help us through many of life's tough times.