Why We Blog: A Sports Metaphor and a Mt. Lebanon Anecdote

Out in my little suburban paradise of Mt. Lebanon, where the streets are plowed and the sidewalks are clear, and all of the children are above average, there is a blogging war going on. (On reconsideration, "war" is a bit strong. I'll call it "dialogue coded pointedly.")

Non-Mt. Lebanon readers are likely already thinking to themselves, who cares about the self-indulgent jerks who live out there, wherever it is? Someone may post a comment to that effect. I will approve the comment, because it is largely well-taken. But there is a broader point, and if you're interested in that, then read on.

The blog that I founded and participated in for several years, "Blog-Lebo," continues without me, stronger than ever. The mission of Blog-Lebo always has been to offer a *critical* perspective on that hamlet: the good, the bad, and the ugly, without kowtowing to the municipal powers that be, the school board powers that be, the real estate community that powers much of the powers that be, or the myth and legend, of which both Mt. Lebanon and Pittsburgh as a whole are so fond, that Mt. Lebanon is the best place on earth. Mt. Lebanon is fond of the myth because its residents often take it all too seriously (and use it to indulge a smug "we moved here because it's the best place on earth" mentality); elsewhere in Pittsburgh, people are fond of the myth because it feeds their dislike and disgust about the town.

Earlier this Winter, a competitor blog sprung up, "Real Lebo," which purports to offer news of "what's really happening" in Mt. Lebanon, and which is trying to position itself as the kinder, gentler blog. No insults, no provocation; Real Lebo is above the fray. As with many missions of that kind, that premise is honored more in the breach than the observance. Real Lebo, in fact, is home to plenty of insults and provocation. Such is the nature of the blogging beast, especially in a haven of class- and status-anxiety like Pittsburgh. You thought that I would say that Mt. Lebanon is a haven of class- and status anxiety? It surely is - nothing drives Mt. Lebanon more than fear of lost prestige - but Mt. Lebanon is merely representative of Pittsburgh's larger class anxiety. Different communities around the region are anxious about different facets of class status, of course; I'm not saying that every place is just like Mt. Lebanon, for ill or for good. My experience with the local blogosphere, however, has been that Pittsburghers as a whole are far better behaved as commenters at this blog -- Pittsblog -- than they have been on the whole either at Blog-Lebo or at Real Lebo. Class and status anxiety is a highly localized thing. In Mt. Lebanon, right now the focus of our class anxiety is the proposal to build a new high school. The two blogs are now dueling, among other things, in their positioning of arguments about what to do and how much to spend.

But the content of the arguments is matched by a duel over tone and style, and it is tone and style that really interest me this morning. Real Lebo has a post up titled Blogging is a Lot Like Hockey (the title is a bit of misdirection; blogging has nothing to do with forechecking and backchecking) that contrasts youth teams coached by screamers (this is bad) with youth teams coached by kind and gentle coaches (this is good). The point is that we all get to "choose" our teams. The implicit message is that Real Lebo posters, readers, commenters, and sympathists are in the second, "good" group, and that Blog Lebo posters, readers, commenters, and sympathists are in the first, "bad" group.

Again, for those of you who don't live in Mt. Lebanon, this is ridiculous and self-indulgent. But there is a lesson here for Pittsburgh, because it gives me a great excuse to mix metaphors and explain my own blogging philosophy -- which has nothing to do with Mt. Lebanon, because I don't blog there any longer -- and everything to do with Pittsblog and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, as I have written over and over, is endlessly anxious about its place in the world. And it suffers from an unfortunate lack of thoughtful critical assessment about what to do about that. Pittsblog is my little corner of the world of critical assessment. Sometimes, I write about cupcakes; sometimes I write about entrepreneurs; it's all about Pittsburgh's present and future identities.

Is blogging a team sport? No, it's really not. But there is a useful sporting analogy to play with. First, however, we have to toss out ice hockey and bring in my favorite sport, soccer. (No offense to hockey partisans, but Pittsblog readers know that it's not my sport.) The soccer/hockey difference is important only because my story is a soccer story. Yours may be a hockey story, or a basketball story, or something else.

I was a coach for recreational and travel soccer teams in the Mt. Lebanon Soccer Association for many years, both boys and girls. I also coached in Boston, where I lived before moving to Pittsburgh, and in Oakland, California before that. My coaching philosophy was consistent, and it was a philosophy that I learned from my own coach – my father: Never yell at the kids, especially during games. In fact, my father picked up that rule many, many years ago during my own playing career, when one of my teammates came over to him at halftime of a game and said, “We'd play better if you'd yell less.” We were, I think, about 12 years old. My father was a quick learner. He never raised his voice on the sideline again, and he preached that lesson in coaching seminars for decades afterward. He was so successful with that message, and with the rest of his coaching philosophy, that a local youth soccer league was named after him last Fall. Meanwhile, my teams won their share of championships under his leadership, including a California state club championship during my senior year in high school.

If you don't yell at the kids, they don't necessarily win more games. They learn more, but they still lose a lot. Many of the parents of the kids on my teams are still in town, and they can verify that my MLSA teams won some games and lost some games. Winning was never the point. The point was teaching love of the game. Lots of the kids that I coached stayed with soccer and played varsity soccer for Mt. Lebanon. The parents who expected to win a lot were, I think, occasionally disappointed with what I was doing. The parents who took the long view were, I think, mostly satisfied.

Even though you don't yell at the kids, as a coach you still challenge the kids. You have to. Whether on the field, in the classroom, or in the political arena, no one learns anything unless they are challenged; otherwise, it's all “you're wonderful, keep doing what you're doing, isn't this a great thing?” and what's the point of that? I pushed the kids: run harder, run faster, think about what you're doing with the ball. Keep the ball and challenge an opponent. Share the ball and go around the opponent. Find the space, fill the space. Attack. Challenge the other player with the ball. And above all – don't be afraid of the ball. These are often uncomfortable lessons. They aren't always easy lessons. The kids pushed back. Many of them thrived. Some of my former players are now playing college soccer. Some of them dropped away from the sport. Some have gone on to success in other sports. (One of the youngest and smallest girls on my first team now starts for Johns Hopkins in field hockey.) My kids tasted success, and they experienced defeat. Done right, coaching and playing youth sports offer the opportunity to teach the lesson that you don't always get what you want in life. But – and I have to say it – you get what you need.

Whether in Mt. Lebanon or in Pittsburgh, blogging, you might say, is a lot like coaching soccer. Push, challenge. The kids will push back, and some will fall away as many will thrive. Soccer isn't everyone's cup of tea. And don't step on the field if you're not ready to mix it up.


9 Responses to "Why We Blog: A Sports Metaphor and a Mt. Lebanon Anecdote"

MH said... 2/21/2010 10:24 AM

If you really want to push peoples' class anxiety, try referring to it as "Lower Dormont."

James Fraasch said... 2/22/2010 9:05 AM

I had to laugh at that. I just yesterday received an email from from someone suggesting that Mt Lebanon might be better served merging with the City of Pittsburgh.

MH, whoever you are, thank you for the idea!


MH said... 2/22/2010 10:41 AM

I'm just someone who looked at living in Mt. Lebo, but decided he was unwilling to have a bridge or tunnel between his house and Oakland.

John Morris said... 2/22/2010 9:10 PM

Hi James, I did a post on my blog suggesting that. As a complete oustsider, it makes sense to me. In NYC, individual property owners coast a bit on the higher density office retail and apartment tax base and people actually leave Long Island and Jersey for lower tax bills.


It seems off hand that Mount Lebanon is something of a streetcar suburb and would share a synergy with the city. Of course, this alone would have a significant effect on the city's politics.

James Fraasch said... 2/23/2010 9:07 AM

John, I did read your post. That is what I was referring to and why I made the comment.

Having lived here for just over five years now I get the sense that Mt Lebanon being renamed to Lower Dormont would be scary enough to ALONE make a merger not happen regardless of how much money it saved. No offense to those residents in Dormont who might be reading. Mike has touched on that kind of "elitism" (both perceived and real) that exists in our town before.

I was actually going to start to look at your post more in depth as I really think Rendell's idea for merging school districts to save money may pick up steam as budgets at the State level continue to be stressed. There may be some merit to it- as long as we (Mt Lebanon) didn't have to change our name!

There was an idea I had a few years back about doing some kind of a student exchange between Pittsburgh schools and Mt Lebanon schools where our kids might get the benefit of some of the magnet schools and Pittsburgh kids get the benefit of a Mt Lebanon education in general....kind of a mini-voucher program. I didn't know if there would be much support for something like that and didn't follow through.

Anyway, thanks for your interesting post.


James Reg said... 7/27/2010 10:15 AM

As soon as someone starts to yell at us, the words are often not heard. We tend to either look around to see who is witnessing this attack on us, or focus on the facial expressions of the person dishing out the yelling.

That is why gentle words always have more effect than a barrage of barked orders.

the Nursery Bedding Sets Mom said... 8/02/2010 5:26 AM

Well said. The whole point is to teach kids good sportsman ship and to love the game. I cannot see how yelling at them can help promote this. It's a known fact that the human brain simply cannot react, remember and function correctly when while receiving that aggressive input.

sports news said... 8/04/2010 6:37 AM

I agree with you there mate. Teahing kids sportsmanship it the main point.

Vanessa said... 8/04/2010 9:25 AM

Great article, you can spare kids anxiety if you don't frighten them to lose. Motivation and reward is still the best thing.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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