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Texas Tech and “The Missing Tile”

How our focus shapes our reality and ultimately, our happiness

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve had a few favorite baseball players to follow over the last decade or so. Both came in with sky high expectations and regardless of how good they played for certain stretches, even years, reality never quite matched up with the expectations of the fans. Over time, those sky high expectations morphed into rock bottom despair. Every time up at the plate the expectation was failure, and any success was met with, at best, dismay, and more often, outright dismissal. Instead of celebrating the base hit, double, home run or great play in the field, the point of conversation would rest on the two other at-bats when the player struck out. This became a thing as the season went on. No 2 for 3 night at the plate or even a game winning home run would replace the sense of dread fans had when he came up. They all probably hoped he’d do well, but publicly, predicted failure because of a prolonged slump earlier in the year.

With the dismissal of Candace Whitaker as head coach of the women’s basketball team, speculation about Kliff Kingsbury’s future and numerous articles here on viva dot com about expectations and what will satisfy the fan base, made me take a look at fandom. Not just a Texas Tech, but sports as a whole.

Seeing the range of fan reactions to the Dallas Cowboys over the past two seasons gives us a prime example. In 2016, many Cowboys fans were ready to claim “the next great era of Dallas Cowboy football was here”, with the duo of star rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Fast forward to an average, and suspension riddled, 2017, those same fans had gone to social media to discuss who was to blame, when this season was supposed to be a championship one. Many blamed head coach Jason Garrett. Others considered whether Dak Prescott was really the real deal or just fortunate when accompanied by Elliott? Some even went so far to talk about star wideout Dez Bryant’s inconsistent play as part of the cause. Point being, everyone had thought they had figured out who was to blame and what needed to change going forward. And it’s not just Texas Tech or the Dallas Cowboys, it’s every franchise and program fan base.

Wondering why our attitudes change and react this way, I thought back to a conversation with a Dr. Don Kalkstein, who specializes in sports performance. I was reminded that, “We are what we focus on. It shapes our reality and for many, negativity is easier to obtain than positivity.” Then I came across a video on social media about “The Missing Tile Syndrome”.

To explain, imagine sitting in a room. And on the ceiling, one tile is missing. Where would your focus go first? Would your mind fixate on the dozens of intact tiles or the singular missing tile?” It’s human nature for us to focus on what we perceive is missing or incomplete rather than appreciate everything that is complete or working properly.

After Texas Tech Basketball beat Kansas in Lawrence for the first time ever, I took to the Kansas messaging boards to see how Jayhawk fans were reacting to the loss. Needless to say, they weren’t happy. Some were talking how Bill Self had lost something of late. Others were saying the problem was recruiting, in which they were not pleased with Kansas coming in 16th in the nation this past year. Even more, some contended that the team had no heart and to expect more losses as the season went on. Such is the life of any fan base after a loss, I suppose, but if this type of mentality can rear its head in even the most successful fan base, it’s no surprise that it is rampant through sports at every level.

Fast forward a few weeks to Texas Tech being ranked 8th in the country and promptly losing 3 of their next 4. Some Tech fans began getting negative. No one likes to lose, whether it’s going 1-3 after earning at Top 10 ranking in basketball, dropping the next 4 after earning a Top 25 ranking in football, or faltering twice in the College World Series. But the events surrounding all of it tend to me more complicated and intricate than we’d like to believe or want to spend the time to understand.

This mentality has even crept into overly successful programs like Oklahoma Football under Bob Stoops. After winning a national championship in his second year, and a few failed attempts in 2004 and 2008, the next ten years, fans were actively discussing firing Bob Stoops. Something that was a big talking point after a loss or a win that was too close for comfort. When is wining a conference title and 10-11 games a season not enough? Same went for Les Miles at LSU, and Mark Richt at Georgia. But instead of seeing this cases as an extreme brought about by current pressures of game, some mid-tier fan bases have used it as a way to say, “Then why are we tolerating 6-7 wins?” Be it Texas Tech, Colorado, Mizzouri, even Texas A&M.

Here is what the responses were from some fans after a recent article titled, “What should Kingsbury’s focus be this offseason?”

The problem with the missing tile syndrome is that, for those focused on the missing tile, until fixed it brings down the quality of the entire ceiling. If recruiting is where your focus is, you may never see the program be successful until Tech recruits in the Top 20, regardless of the sport. If it’s coaching, you’ll never see the program be successful until their is a coaching change. If it’s transfers, every player who transfers out is a symptom of the other two. Which signifies, once the focus changes to negative, only a complete change will fix the perception.

When coaching athletes, we work a lot on positive mindsets and leaving no possibility of failure within our thought process. It’s hard to train our minds to be this way. We tend to, by our very nature, get dragged down into the weeds of negativity and oftentimes, be envious or dismissive of any person, program or organization that refuses to allow themselves to fixate on the fatalistic.

Ultimately, our happiness as sports fans doesn’t rest with the final score, season record or prestige of our favorite team, but rather in enjoying the game for what it is, and supporting your team, regardless of result, with tempered criticism.

We were all worried last night when Tech was down by 12 at halftime and staring their 3rd straight loss in the face. But guaranteed that not one of those players or coaches had anything negative to say or think at half time. If they did, they wouldn’t have been able to come back in such spectacular fashion. To them, there was no other option than to comeback.

Part of what makes sports so much fun is the faucet of raw emotion we react to games with. Social media only amplifies it. But if you find yourself expecting the worst to happen, not being optimistic about games, waiting to say “I told you so” when your favorite team loses, or complaining even when they win. Ask yourself, what are you focusing on?

There is nothing special about being excited or optimistic when your team is winning. It’s special when you can be that way, even when they aren’t.