The Name Game

August 2nd, 2013
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PROGRAM ALERT: The new August episode of Career Changers TV premieres Sat., Aug. 3 at 8:30 PM on OC16. We have fun segments on the Waikiki Aquarium, plus interesting pieces on a unique WWII museum in Kakaako that is NOT open to the public, and another Blue Startup company that is offering a tailored gift-giving/reminder app. For details and daily viewing times, go to www.CareerChangers.TV.

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Thankfully, there will be no more name controversy for the UH football team, now that Coach Norm Chow has announced players will have their individual last names on their game jerseys this season. As you may recall, there was some guy named "IMUA" at every position in the latter part of the schedule. In the beginning of Coach Chow's first year, however, there wasn't even that word -- just plain numbers. The idea was that no individual was more important than the team.

I understand his intent. But when I was a high school football player, getting a varsity game jersey with my last name emblazoned across the back of it was a huge thing for me. To this day, I will remember the head coach handing it to me prior to the start of my senior season. "You're it this year," he said, pointing to the number 12. The prior season, the starting quarterback and team captain wore that number. I played defensive back and had been a bench-warmer on the varsity my sophomore and junior years, largely because I weighed about 135 pounds and all the starters were at least 40-50 pounds heavier than me. I'm not sure if he meant I was going to be a team captain, but I was named a starter prior to our opening game... and promptly broke my leg in practice, which is why I never found out if he had planned on making me a captain as well.

In any event, I felt it was a mistake for Coach Chow to do away with names because a major selling point to keep our best players home is that they will be able to perform in front of their family and friends -- people who take a great deal of pride in their family names. That's one of the coolest things too about UH football: seeing all those different ethnic names that Mainland sportscasters wrestle with and mispronounce in comical ways. Heck, I'm not even sure of the correct pronunciation of some Polynesian names.

As it happens, I just interviewed an award-winning journalist and NY Times best-selling book author, Ashley Merryman, who has co-written a new book called "Top Dog - The Science of Winning and Losing," in which they examine many kinds of competitive situations... including sports. Things like home field advantage (which is very real) and how often the underdogs pull off the upset (very rarely) and why. I wondered if having your name on your jersey could be construed as a home field edge, since it allows fans to root for individuals and creates a sense of urgency for the players who know their families are in the stands watching them.

So I emailed that question to Ashley before she came to Honolulu for the American Psychological Association convention this week. I thought she might be a presenter because the prior book she co-wrote with Po Bronson, "NurtureShock," received national attention for what it had to say about the effects of praise on children (turns out how the praise is given matters a great deal -- not just for kids, but even adults). They were featured in Newsweek, Time, New York Times Magazine, CNN and so on. But Ashley wasn't here to speak. She came in search of other possible subjects for her next book or magazine piece. The reason she contacted me was she hoped I would plug her book, and maybe put her on Career Changers since "Top Dog" has much to say about winning in the business world. Having read the book, I highly recommend it to anyone who is a coach, business leader, entrepreneur or parent.

Anyhow, Ashley gave me a thoughtful two-page reply to the names/numbers question. She couldn't find any studies related to it, but didn't think having individual names on uniforms was part of the home field advantage. On the other hand, she thought it could be seen as "de-personalizing" and might be "de-motivating" to do away with individual names since it downplays their identity as a person. I had mentioned the prior name controversy about the Rainbows versus Warriors, and her take on that was it could be "unsettling" if the name keeps getting changed, which could convey the "team's identity as a whole is not settled." Hopefully, Ben Jay's decision to go with Rainbow Warriors settles that matter once and for all.

What she said next caused a light bulb to flash on in my head: it's really about tradition and making the team name, logo, policies regarding names/numbers, represent values shared by a community of supporters. Her example was her alma mater, USC (she majored in film and screenwriting there). They do not put players' names on their jerseys and have not for as long as she can remember. The coaches choose who gets what number -- like my high school coach did -- and certain numbers are associated with past great USC players at that position. She noted that USC fans are "taught" to know what number signifies what position, and who played that position before. If you can't identify a player by their number, then you're not a true USC fan, are you? The numbers are part of their sports culture.

And where did Coach Chow serve as offensive coordinator before? Yep, USC. But UH doesn't have the same legacy or sense of tradition and history as schools like that -- in part, because some individual head coaches chose to change things up on their own; in part, because our fan base is just not as passionate about college football as other places on the Mainland.

At the end of my interview with Ashley (which will be in the September show) I asked her to make a prediction for the UH-USC home opener. Did David stand a chance against Goliath? She laughed, then gave a serious answer: the key to being competitive is for the contestants to be evenly matched. When one is far superior to the other, the underdog generally lies down and performs poorly. However, if the superior team comes in thinking there isn't going to be any real competition put up by the weaker foe, there's the possibility that overconfidence will lead to the underdog getting a few breaks that could result in an upset. I don't think USC will be coming in too cocky though, considering how they stumbled in the second half of last season.

Then again, who honestly thought the "Rainbow Warriors" would make a comeback as the football team name? This is a chance for fans to restart a legacy, and make the name change stand for something special. Be there, aloha --and bring that guy, Imua with you!

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You can watch video segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel by clicking here. We're now at over 100,000 views and climbing -- not bad, when you consider we don't have a single cat-jumping-in-box or idiot-doing-stupid-thing video in the lot.

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