Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

After nestling through shelter-in-place and extended COVID life for nearly a year, I’m reflecting on another gamechanger.

Maybe like many others this year, I found myself with more opportunities to get closer to my family… and closer to my devices. For better or for worse, one of those devices was my TV. I love watching sports, the news, a few other channels, and maybe Netflix.

But watching sports just wasn’t the same this year. There was something missing. And it was really eerie. In fact, you might say…

The silence was defeaning.

Though I can’t find it online to cite my source, I’m recalling a Tiger Woods commercial in which the main theme went something like:

“The only thing more intense than 40,000 screaming fans is 40,000 silent fans.”

That was a powerful message because I can still recall it two decades later.

Over the years, the crowd at any sporting event has earned some endearing names, such as The 6th Man, The 12th Man, The Cameron Crazies, and a few others, depending on the home team. Undeniably, there’s something so intangibly valuable about having someone in your corner cheering you on that it’s good for the soul and it might even change your trajectory. While fans pay for their tickets, once they’re in, their support and encouragement are priceless.

We Need People in the Stands

Major Leauge Baseball was the first to step up to the plate. Even with a full count, they tried so hard to pitch the perfect game. While the lineup was appreciated, it was also cursed. First, they added fake crowd noise. While it was obvious that no one was in the stands, the constant hum of automated crowd noise actually distracted from the action. By the seventh inning stretch of the season, they positioned Pixar-like people in the stands. Some of them even moved! It felt like a video game with no controls. To bring on the relief, they even had a World Series, for those who had a healthy chance to contend for it, for those who could make it, and for those who wanted to watch anything amidst a pandemic.

The presence of people mattered so much that MLB automated fake crowd noise, programmed fake people in the stands, and constructed competition with any teams healthy enough at the moment, even if financially motivated.

Crowd Noise Influences Outcomes

At the US Open on Labor Day, the GOAT Serena Williams served up her usual well-played performance. When she fell behind a few games and even a set before coming back to win with authority, the commentators must have said about 100,000 times: “Wow, no doubt the crowd would have cheered her on and helped her win that point. She’s really missing the crowd!”

The dynamic here was interesting. Of course, the home-country crowd at the US Open would definitely cheer on Serena Williams. Yet, what was interesting was that as great of a tennis player that Serena Williams was and is, the crowd could have possibly influenced the outcome of any single point, game, set, or match. That’s powerful–and unbelievable.

Crowds Foster a Sense of Self and a Sense of Belonging

In the Texans versus Lions NFL football game on Thanksgiving Day, the commentators once again offered up a Hail Mary. Coming just after Texans’ JJ Watt took the air out of the stadium with a pick-6, the silence echoed, only to be interrupted by a few hundred fans and this unique opportunity of our pandemic time. Zooming in on the [nearly empty] stands, they found one cardboard cutout upon which to spike the football. The profile seemed to fit that of the average NFL fan, cheering on his team with loyalty, dedication, and enthusiasm. That fan paid $150 to have his likeness in the stands. That’s right: Fans could pay $150 to attend the game in cardboard–even if they couldn’t be there in the flesh.

The reason why I’m awed by this emphasis of crowd importance is that it fosters a sense of self in the form of cardboard, yet also restores a sense of belonging to the larger group–the crowd. That fan belonged to this crowd who, together, supported “our” team. In a pandemic, this seemed like an indirect way to satisfy a basic need. In addition, all expenses paid to be part of something special in cardboard went to charity. That also matters, because a pure motive invites authenticity and feel-good opportunities to do the right thing, especially in a challenging time.

Then, there were also several crowd-missing features about the NBA, PGA, NASCAR, NHL, and many more… But those are for another time.

Good Question: Who’s in Your Crowd?

Have you ever stopped to consider your own crowd? Who’s in it? Who has been there for you through it all? Who has had your back? Who cheers you on every time something good happens in your life?

While the importance of having people in your networks who push your thinking and disagree with you nearly every step of the way has been incredibly emphasized this year, it’s equally important to embrace those who are loyal fans in your crowd.

Better Question: Whose Crowd Are You In?

Everyone has a basic need to belong. Everyone needs fans.

Whose crowd are you in? Whose team are you on?

Who are you following, encouraging, and embracing? To whom are you loyal, dedicated, and unconditionally supportive?

Who are you cheering on every step of the way?

Who are the people around you who might need a superfan?

What if you were a superfan for one of the people in your family, inner circle, group, classroom, or school? How important might your words and actions also be to someone on your team, department, or organization?

We need each other. Where there’s people, crowd noise matters.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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