“Managing expectations” is a phrase that’s been bandied about by more than one coach and manager in the sporting world.
In fact, it was one of the mantras of Cubs manager Joe Maddon last season, as the Cubs worked their way to ending the team’s 108-year World Series championship drought.
What it means for athletes is that they need to focus on the task at hand, tuning out what the rest of the planet might be saying about their performance as a team or as an individual.
If the world thinks you’re the best of the best, it shouldn’t matter. Believe it, and you might plummet, especially if you start to think that just showing up is enough to win games, matches and series. Far better to believe that every opponent is capable of beating you and that you need to do your best each and every time.
Conversely, if you’re struggling, it’s best not to believe that, either. Sometimes buying into the concept of poor performance just means that you let down your guard and stop trying; after all, no one thinks you’re going to do anything anyway. Far better to understand that you always have a chance and that on any given day, you can beat anyone.
This idea of managing expectations is not only good for athletes, but it’s also a handy concept for those of us who consider ourselves to be fans of sports teams and individual athletes.
Sometimes we, too, need to take a moment and calibrate what we expect from our teams.
Take the Cubs, for example. Maybe it was because they had such a special season last year, culminating in a miraculous victory in Game 7 of the World Series, that we all got the idea that they should pull off a repeat performance. Perhaps we got it into our heads that they would just race through the regular season, racking up series victory after series victory as they ran away from the rest of the National League pack.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. In fact, they’re not even atop their own division. In any other division, in fact, they might already be out of it. Hovering around the .500 mark isn’t exactly good. Cubs president Theo Epstein characterized the Cubs’ first half as “bad.”
Yet the second half of the season is off to at least a somewhat promising start, with a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles and the acquisition of Sox ace Jose Quintana.
Will the Cubs make the playoffs? Will they repeat as World Series champs?
Those of us who are fans probably would love to unequivocally say yes. However, it’s far from a done deal. And it bears mentioning that repeating is pretty tough in baseball. This isn’t the NBA, after all. So we’ll just have to manage our expectations as fans and hang on for what just could be a bumpy ride. Sometimes it’s best to get neither too ecstatic at wins nor too devastated at losses. Let’s leave the dramatics to the sports writers.
And those of us who are Bulls, White Sox, Bears and Blackhawks fans, we probably ought to work on managing our expectations, too. With so many Chicago teams in the “rebuilding” mode, we really have to have a long-term view. Then again, all that losing just gives the sarcastic among us a lot of material with which to hone their witty remarks. After all, there is some comfort in laughing through those tears.
Still, no one really wants to have to wait 108 years to win again, do we?
Let’s hope not.
• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.