Sports, Column

COLUMN: Finding The Opportunity In Mistakes

In most sports, making a small mistake-while possibly detrimental to personal or team success-is not the end of the world or a cause of great personal harm. A strikeout in baseball could strand runners and marginally lower a batting average, but very few players end up injured because of a swing and a miss-otherwise, Max Scherzer would be one of the most dangerous men in the United States.

Similarly, in soccer, screw-ups generally don’t maim or kill. Mistakes might come very close to killing your career if you happen to be English goalkeeper Rob Green, but even the butterfingers king has recovered from letting that ball slip through his hands and legs and into the Three Lions’ net during the 2010 World Cup. The vast majority of times, mistakes are deflating, frustrating, and annoying, but they are rarely disastrous in the greater scheme of things.

There are some sports, though, in which the most minuscule of errors could inflict serious injury or even fatalities, and a little over two weeks ago, Canadian snowboarding wunderkind Mark McMorris made such a mistake.

McMorris-who is, in short, a wildly talented 20-year-old snowboarder-was heading into his final Slopestyle run in the cluster of GoPro advertisements, legions of energy-drink gulping snow bros, and terrible announcers that was the Aspen X Games. His score was just short of gold medal territory, and McMorris needed a perfect performance to leapfrog his countryman Max Parrot.

Leg one of the run was a success as McMorris nailed a sliding 360 over a treacherous-looking box rail. Then, on the second feature, it went terribly wrong. As planned, McMorris flew off the jump toward the serpentine, arching rail, but as he turned his board across his body to start the grind, his toeside edge clipped the front of the neon pipe, launching him into a disaster.

The Canadian was flung like a sack of bricks from a catapult-his flailing arms useless in stopping his torso from careening into the metal rail. Momentum flipped him to the end of the pipe, where he remarkably landed not on his head, but on his feet facing the rail with his board on the snow. Sliding a few feet down the slope, McMorris collapsed in a pathetic heap-his rib had broken on impact and his Sochi chances were murky.

McMorris’ crash occurred on Jan. 25. On Feb. 8, after two weeks of travelling and training filled with acupuncture sessions, massages, pool workouts, and brutally painful qualifying runs, he glided to the bottom of the slopestyle course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Sochi, his performance good enough for a bronze medal. McMorris’ mistake could have ended his Sochi trip, but he fought through the pain to win Canada’s first medal of the 2014 Olympics.

While it’s not dealing with any problems of the rib-breaking specificity, the No. 7 Boston College women’s hockey team is now faced with a situation in which it needs to grind through the pain of a mistake.

This past Saturday, Hockey East-leading BC suffered a crash of its own in Storrs, Conn. Up until Saturday, the Eagles were playing dominant hockey, most recently crushing Boston University 4-1 in the Beanpot semifinal. Sophomore Haley Skarupa has been lethal, leading the Eagles with 18 goals and 12 assists for 30 points. Andie Anastos, a freshman forward, is right behind her with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. Again and again, the team has turned opposing goalies into target practice, scoring 96 goals in 28 games as seven players have put up 20 points or more.

Before traveling to Connecticut, head coach Katie King Crowley’s Eagles were 20-5-3, riding an 11-game unbeaten streak, and had failed to score a goal in only one game. On Saturday, though, that streak came to a screeching halt when the UConn Huskies stonewalled BC. The Eagles lost 2-0 to a team that-talent-wise-it should beat handily any day of the week, right before the Beanpot final. Try as they might, the Eagles couldn’t find the back of the net and were beaten at even strength twice. Sophomore goaltender Elaine Chuli stood on her head for UConn, making 45 saves and turning away anything and everything BC could throw at her.

At this point of the season, dropping a game to an opponent that should-on paper at least-be a breeze of a victory is a poor result for a team bent on returning to the Frozen Four. When attempting to win anything truly worth winning, though, there will be roadblocks, and this mistake could end up benefiting the Eagles.

It’s easy to become complacent when you’re on top-sometimes a reality check can help in the long run. Just this weekend in the world of NCAA men’s hockey, Minnesota lost twice. You’d be a fool to count them out of anything, though-the Gophers will learn from their errors and come back more dangerous.

From broken ribs to unsettling loses, mistakes create various degrees of suffering, but also the opportunity to watch the tape and figure out what went wrong-before it’s too late.

For a team like Crowley’s, winning everything without losing something is feasible, but very difficult. Making mistakes never seems ideal at the time, but down the road, the lessons learned may make winning possible.

February 10, 2014
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