I have been fascinated by all the hoopla surrounding Tim Tebow and his exploits in the National Football League (NFL) over the past few weeks, with much focus on his religious displays (affectionately termed ‘tebowing‘). Yesterday, I read one of the more intriguing analyses of Tebow’s plays, written by the off-beat economists at Freakonomics. They focus on the importance of ‘four elements: timing, luck, faith – and timing’. These factors are not unique to Tebow; in fact, they come into play in every sport (and more so in some, such as tennis, where, sometimes bizarrely, winning key points is more important than winning most points) and in most things we do. Successful people know about the relevance of these factors and try to skew the odds in their favour by relying on one or other of them more or less, depending on circumstances.
Luck you cannot control, but through judicious assessments of risk and reward, good luck may occur more than bad luck, or the impact of good luck is maximised and the effect of bad luck mimimized. Traders will be familiar with this in terms of setting up stop-loss and take profit levels.
Faith is usually there in large amounts in any sustained success, whether it is from a set of formal beliefs that come from a religious base, or some core philosophical or cultural teachings, or from accumulated experiences that can bolster whatever you want to believe. As the Freakonomics writers put it: ‘By definition, faith often translates into a kind of fearlessness. Tim Tebow doesn’t seem to be familiar with the phenomenon known as “fear of failure.” His belief – in himself, and in success – may be the intangible that lifts not only his own play, but of those around him.’ Removing that fear of failure is often the key to much success, however you may want to put it (such as the adage that you cannot go forward by thinking of going backwards). Self-belief can often drive a person to where he needs to go. Jamaicans have an expression ‘We likkle but we tallawah‘, which roughly translated means we may be small but we have great strength; we have resilience and look to overcome obstacles.
Timing is everything. Miss a bus, or train, or plane, or connection of any form by a second and you may be stuck for much longer than that. Traders know about this in a brutal way: a position taken that works against you is a badly timed trade, no matter how it developed in the past or how it may develop on a future occasion. You have to accept that your timing was wrong. Being fashionably late or habitually late, often mean you have passed on the negative consequences of bad timing to someone else. It also means that you have put yourself into the bracket of the unreliables, and that tends to have its own set of negative consequences.
What has struck me about the assessments I have read of Tim Tebow in recent weeks is how people have tried to focus mainly on his open demonstrativeness about his religion (faith). He is not the first to do that, and he wont be the last. Just last week, I saw Ben Roethlisberger (the Pittsburg Steelers quarterback) making his own public religious displays, when he kneels and prays on the sidelines before each game or in celebration of a big play. But, ‘Big Ben’ has other attributes that people want to see in a winning quarterback and has been doing the come-back-from-behind routine for a longer time, so the religious aspect about him has been largely downplayed. Much more focus has been put on his long list of injuries, his physical resilience and ability to perform well despite those setbacks. That resilience must have a base in physical prowess but also in mental toughness, which is where faith and self-belief come into play.
A player’s strength of religious belief (faith) is not trivial to his or her make-up, but it is only one dimension of the whole person. Having noted that, recent research by sociologist, Eric Carter, on religion and NFL players found that many professional football players are much more likely than most Americans to engage in ‘deviant’ behaviours (he cites recent well-publicized examples, such as Brett Favre and Michael Vick, but the press in recent weeks keeps adding to the list with Sam Hurd (who had a pious image) being arrested for drug dealing and former NFL star, Willie Gault being prosecuted on a stock-pumping fraud). However, the athletes who embrace religion and practice what they preach are much better citizens than their peers.
The media focus on Tebow’s religion may reflect the extent to which some observers feel uncomfortable with something that they may not share as strongly. That focus has tried to make Tim Tebow seem odd or out of place, but he is much like most successful athletes (or successful people, in general) in building on what for him have been the bases of his success–nothing more or less.