If You Work Hard, Do You "Deserve" a Reward?

Ever since I’ve evolved to like the life of the mind more than the life of the athlete, I’ve worked to keep my basketball career intellectually stimulating. One key component of this is my role as captain.

Last season things were going terribly and a lot of people had their own personal gripes/complaints/questions about a whole host of things. I found myself fielding late night calls from guys wondering why they weren’t getting playing time, and secondarily, what I thought about the team’s prospects going forward.

I have serious reservations about the college process, but the one good thing that comes out of it is it ensures that most students will work really really hard during high school and then "fail" by not getting into their #1 choice. For overachievers, this is a critical experience, because our whole life you’re indoctrinated with a falsehood: "Work hard, and you can do anything." (And I posit it’s SO much better to fail NOW than endure the mid-life crisis that David Brooks anticipates will happen to my generation in a big way.)

In basketball, it’s the same way. People assume that if you put in the time and effort, there should be a personal reward (playing time – it’s hard to look beyond yourself, no matter how well the team does). I was trying to articulate this to a teammate a week ago. Even at the high school basketball level, four years of blood, sweat, and tears doesn’t guarantee shit. It should guarantee an opportunity to prove yourself, but after that, it’s about putting the most competitive 5 on the court.

6 comments on “If You Work Hard, Do You "Deserve" a Reward?
  • I agree that a personal reward is never guaranteed in sports, even with a strong work ethic.

    I would, however, refute the premise that an investment of blood, sweat and tears doesn’t guarantee shit.

    The payback is the strength gained from the journey.

    Part of what I preach as a coach is that you may very well NEVER see the field (good final point by you that, in the end, the best five play) but that should NOT affect your desire to do your best. In fact, giving your all – even with the knowledge that you may not be “rewarded” – is what life is all about. Your effort must be pure and focused, not fueled by a potential payoff of some sort. In sports, as in life, the payback is rarely equal to the level of commitment, as only one team eventually achieves the ultimate goal of becoming champion.

    To me, the notion of “sports as a metaphore for life” rings so true because it tests our resolve and dedication to a process as opposed to a result.

    I’ve failed to meet many goals in life, but found solace and satisfaction in the fact that I tried my best. It’s when I know I didn’t try my best that I feel I’ve failed.

  • You might enjoy reading “My Personal Best” by John Wooden and Steve Jamison – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/00071437924 It’s a short read and Mr. Wooden has many insightful things to say about preparation and achievement. To paraphrase too concisely — preparing is achievement. Winning? That sorts itself out. The book has a great perspective on being a coach and a player. Of course the great question for a coach (and boss/mentor/parent/…) is whether you’re ensuring the time your players spend preparing is worthwhile.

  • I thought that this was going to go in an entirely different direction. A couple of months ago Brad DeLong posted on whether rich people deserved their money in a moral sense. High prices, he posited, for certain services were a signalling mechanism to encourage people to enter those fields (never mind the cartels like lawyers and doctors). They don’t retroactively deposit moral desert on the winner.

    I am increasingly less convinced by the value of meritocracy. It’s efficient in a lot of areas, but there’s also a value to knowing that you may not fully deserve what you have, an aspect of humility.

    And I am starting to thinnk that everyone deserves a certain level of healthcare (what the rich get will always be somewhat better) but that basic, competent medical care shouldn’t depend on how succesful you are.

    I know it’s a slippery socialist step. Still, I don’t knwo why more entrepreneurs don’t support some sort of universal coverage–either a single payer or opening up the FEHB (which employs community rating) to everyone with subsidies for those on lower incomes. It means a healthier workforce and the entrepreneurs can concentrate on their business and won’t have to worry about picking a health insurance plan.

  • Greg, excellent points, I agree 100%. The journey is the reward. I wish people could see this before wanting to quit because they’re not getting their minutes. Playing sports builds life experiences, life lessons. For b-ball we always try to balance result goals (BCL champ) with process goals (tireless effort, have fun).

  • >>(And I posit it’s SO much better to fail NOW than endure the mid-life crisis that David Brooks anticipates will happen to my generation in a big way.)<< Hey you referred to this today… What article did he say that in? Do you have it anywhere? Thanks, Michael

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