Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pro Teams for 2014: Ironmen

The latest iteration of the Ironmen begs a question or two. Is this more of a homecoming of former Ironmen or a true merger of distinct teams? Hint: Don't let the return of legendary Ironman Shane Pestana influence your decision. Still it's not an easy call. Two seasons ago half (or more) of these same players played together under the Ironmen shield but not the same group as were Ironmen last year or Royalty for that matter. Two seasons ago the Ironmen were young, untested up-and-comers who had a remarkably good and consistent season. Even so the team was rebuilt last year with some of the 'Men from 2 years ago moving over to Royalty. The rebuild didn't deliver the unrealistic instant championship that seems to have been part of the unspoken push to rebuild in the first place. So here they are with potentially the best pieces of the last two Ironmen teams under the leadership of a proven winner in Pestana. So, it's a no-brainer, right? How could anything go wrong this time?
First it's not really a question of things going wrong, it's a question of fit and things working out. But there are some good reasons to suppose they will work out. The team is mostly young but experienced. It has a lot of former and present Ironmen together again--even if for some it's the first time. Virtually all of them have played for Pestana before. On paper it looks pretty damn good.
And yet I am somehow not convinced. (If I were an Ironmen fan) I'm concerned. I'm concerned because the youth movement took a series fourth but never really challenged the top teams in a season without Impact and a struggling Dynasty. Then last season with some All*Star additions the Ironmen finished fifth overall and struggled with--inconsistent play and an inability to challenge the top teams. Granted there were a lot of roster shake-ups this off season but there is also no reason to expect any sort of across the board decline from the top teams either plus Art Chaos is joining the party and a revamped Legion will have the grit and determination of the core of the Ton Tons to help shore up their roster. The ultimate pecking order may be uncertain but the top of the Champions bracket will remain a murderer's row.
I'm also concerned because I think the "problem" is less about talent and skills and more about the mental game. Don't get me wrong; I don't mean anyone on that team lacks desire or heart or determination. All good things but they are not the measure of what matters in the pro game, they are simply prerequisites for competing at this level. It isn't your mental strength that tells in the end, it's your weaknesses. And the greatest of those is fear. If you're thinking fear of failure, not so much really. It's more insidious than that. Fear of making a mistake and being benched. Fear of letting your teammates down. Fear of disappointing your coach and mentor. Fear of ... you get the idea. And while Pestana is a great motivator that isn't the answer. All that leaves me unconvinced the Ironmen have the mental tenacity to overcome their silent fears.
The practical upshot is indecisiveness. It's over-thinking. It's a rhymeless momentary hesitation. Or the sudden unnecessary desperation rundown. And all those small moments collect into tiny failures of fortune and before you know it they are lost positions, gunfights, points and matches.
Are the Ironmen destined then for another year of frustration? Not at all. Each "new" team deals with fear differently. The pieces always fit in unique patterns. The attitudes, the personalities, the comradery, the vibe is always unique to that group. But it starts with changing the mental frame. From a frame focused on the negative to a frame that is unrelentingly positive. It's never about what you can't do (or shouldn't do) (or failed to do), it's always about what you will do, this time, next time and with each succeeding opportunity for success.
The potential is there. The goal is a mission unfulfilled--so far. A return to glory. If the team can use that goal to inspire instead of overwhelm it could be within reach.

Next time, X-Factor. Hint: habitual.

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