Friday, February 8, 2013

Sports Ethics: "Let's Do This"

I was at a Husky women's basketball game last week near the bench. Fans are screaming and the score is tight. Pressure rises.   The team huddles, listens to the coach and right before breaking, the team leaders yells, “let’s do this!”

It’s a strong appeal that we hear in all aspects of life, and I believe it carries real ethical and psychological power. Let’s parse out the meaning and power of this classic sports exhortation.

“Let’s Do This!” demands action. Leaders exhort their group to unite and take action in sport and life. The phrase commands a moral and psychological demand that focuses the quest for excellence and victory in sports and life. The words parse out in a very critical way that makes real sense in sport but in life.

THIS—An indefinite pronoun situates athletes and people in an immediate context. No one needs to spell it out. The word informs everyone that the task exists immediately before the group. High performing individuals and athletes live in the exact moment being fully aware of the situational complexity of what they face and whom their opponents are and what obstacles confront them. THIS needs no explication. It assumes that the individual team members all make themselves fully present. They know the goal and know the tasks. The word assumes and demands situational awareness.

LET’S—(Let Us) A compound verb/object accomplishes two vital goals. The US pinpoints every person as members of a team with a common goal. The phrase unites the team and creates a shared sense of responsibility. Using these words puts everyone on notice that no one person can do this. Everyone must contribute and must fully engage right now at this point in time with this task confronting them.

Underlying the assertion of a team identity and responsibility lies the belief that everyone bonded by the call possesses the knowledge and the skill to accomplish a task. Individuals make this claim when they can presume an history—that the individuals in the huddle have practiced and mastered skill and coordinated activity. The claim welds together a group identity and responsibility with a shared expertise and focus.

But the US only covers the contraction aspect. “LET” unleashes another active imperative. This phrase is not a question and it is not a request. The word let has a sort of subjunctive mode to it, a should, an imperative dimension. But rather than just a direct order—“do this now,” “I command  you” or “I order you.” The verb infers an authoritative or commanding invitation as in let’s go to the beach or let’s go inside. Let’s is ambiguous enough to hint that the person uttering it does not possess full authority to order or chooses not to. Rather “let us” or let’s invites people to commit. The authority hides behind and reinforces the team identity.

Let’s addresses each member of the team as an imperative to pull together, to act together and stake their identities together in THIS task before them. The locution flattens the hierarchy of authority and elicits dedication rather than subordination. It brings commitment not just compliances.

That is why the locution is so interesting and important in sports and life. The moral import of the phrase involves a coming together for a shared purpose as a team to achieve the task in front of the group.

DO—Simple, clean and to the point. The verb do grows from deep linguistic roots endures as one of the oldest and most direct action words in English. The verb promises to act, to put in place  andto make happen. A promise and direction cannot be more simple and more direct.

Just like the “this,” the verb do does not specify the exact action, rather it means that the group will perform what is necessary to achieve the goal. By its very imperative elusiveness, the verb matches the pronoun “this.” Do promises the individuals will act in a necessary way linked to the goal—it links action and goal to the shared responsibility of the team.

Sometimes the words sound so simple, yet they evoke so much and depend upon a deep moral and psychological connection.

Let’s do this epitomizes the stance of a team that commits to be present to a situation and perform the tasks necessary to achieve it. But underneath, it evokes the dedication and mutual regard and coordination any group of “us” needs.