I was in my office past 5pm last night, something of a rarity according to my co-workers. I was watching a feed of the Champion’s League semi-final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The game went to a penalty shoot-out. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka had penalty kicks saved by the Bayern keeper. Both shots were low to the left side of goal, but lacked the pace and precision to beat the diving keeper. Iker Casillas saved two Bayern penalties, and all was left open.
Enter Sergio Ramos. He is an excellent defender, but over my close observation of Real during the last two seasons, an exceptionally emotional player. He is full of fight and vigor, but when things go against Real his is prone to senseless fouling and excessive complaining. Also notable is the fact that Ramos dropped the Copa Del Rey trophy from the top of a double decker bus during a victory parade last year. For these reasons, I was filled with a sense of inevitable doom when I realized he would be taking the fourth penalty in the shootout. Predictably, he missed….spectacularly sending his kick well over the goal and into the crowd.
Excessively emotional players like Ramos are not suited to perform in the clutch in skill-based actions. He should not have been one of the penalty kick takers. This can be a difficult decision for a coach to make as emotional players like Ramos bring much to the team. Their emotion brings a fighting spirit and morale to the team, and the energy of that emotion is capable of heroic, herculean efforts in difficult games. The disctinction comes with whether the specific action is skill-based or effort based. A penalty kick, a decisive final pass, a free kick, a free throw attempt, a shot late in a game are all skill-based. Brave defending, pressing the ball, rebounding, winning loose or 50/50 balls are all effort-based.
Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics are an excellent example of this balance. Garnett is an excessive emotional player. During his career in Minnesota, he was miss cast as a go to player. He was willing, but emotionally incapable of being a fourth quarter scoring assassin. The only playoff success he had was when he was paired with Sam Cassell, an underrated skill-based clutch performer. Garnett’s greatest success has come with the Celtics where he has Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to handle skill-based scoring duties late in games, while he provides the effort-based impetus.