Athletes, coaches and competitors look for answers in all kinds of places when they fail. They look at film, they look at playbooks, they look at practices, they look at Bible verses.
But perhaps no where do they look for help more than the mirror.
When things are bad, the go-to move for competitors is the mirror.
What kind of mirror, I’m not sure — a rear-view mirror, bathroom mirrors, maybe a full-length mirror — but somewhere in there, they are convinced are the answers.
Let’s face it, this has been the case since mirrors started showing up more than 8,000 years ago in Turkey, with the first ones made of ground and polished obsidian — volcanic glass. The search for answers was immortalized in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow White,” in which the evil queen asks, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” As we know, that went badly for Snow White when the evil queen didn’t get the answer she wanted.
Coaches and athletes look into mirrors with different questions. They want to know if they are the fairest ones of all, and, like the evil queen, sometimes they don’t like the answers they get.
Paul Pierce was a devoted follower of the mirror. “You have that at certain times throughout the season,” Pierce said last season, when the Washington Wizards were struggling. “I think sometimes it’s just mental fatigue. At the end of the day, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. We can’t be ones that point fingers at one another — not to say that’s what’s going on in this locker room — but, we have to look ourselves in the mirror, look at the tape, and ask yourself, ‘What can I do better to make this team better?’”
The answer must have been in the mirror, since the Wizards turned things around for a dramatic playoff run.
The Wizards have gone back to the mirror again this season. After an embarrassing 117-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets at home last week, forward Jared Dudley called on his teammates to look in the mirror. “I think guys [have] got to start looking at themselves in the mirror,” he said. “I know we’re trying to do everything the right way. Guys are playing hard. You’re not questioning them like that, but overall, we have to take it up another notch. And, to lose that type of game [with] three, four days off, I think it’s unacceptable.”
They were wearing Baltimore Bullets throwback uniforms for that game. They could have used Gus Johnson looking back at them in the mirror.
They called for a players-only meeting after that loss. Maybe they decided they needed more mirrors, because the Wizards bounced back for a road win Saturday night over the Houston Rockets.
Here’s the problem — every time the Wizards look in the mirror this year, they probably see Pierce. What they don’t see is Kevin Durant.
We know Robert Griffin III is a follower of the mirror. Following an unforgettable 27-7 loss in 2014 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field when Griffin was sacked six times, he said everyone, not just him, should look in the mirror.
“All of the sacks are on me,” Griffin said. “Period. We’re 3-7, and everybody in this room knows that, and everybody in that locker room knows that. We can’t do what 3-7 football teams do. We can’t throw knives and stab each other in the back. I think we have good people in our locker room, men of God that are going to stick together and stay strong. So, when you ask me that question, and I say all of the sacks are on me, it’s because I’m looking myself in the mirror and saying, ‘I can do better. I have to do better.’ I need every man in that locker room, players and coaches, to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better?’”
The mirror was confused that day, trying to figure out how someone could both take blame and absolve himself of blame in the same moment.
What does Griffin see when he looks in the mirror? The best quarterback on the Washington Redskins’ roster and one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
“I know I’m the best quarterback on this team,” he told WJLA-Ch. 7 in August. “I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the league and I have to go out and show that. Any athlete at any level, if they concede to someone else, they’re not a top competitor, they’re not trying to be the best that they can be. There’s guys in this league that have done way more than me. But I still view myself as the best because that’s what I work toward every single day.”
The mirror cracked that day.
Of course, former Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams looked to the mirror for help during the September collapse last season. “I want to do everything we can to win a baseball game,” Williams told reporters. “I look at it — every morning, I wake up and I look in the mirror and say, ‘Do whatever you have to do today to help us win a game.’”
Williams didn’t see Earl Weaver looking back at him in that mirror.
The classic, perhaps best, example of looking in the mirror for help comes from the great LeBron James, following a loss last year to the Rockets. He wrote in a post on Instagram, “Looking in the mirror tonight after a tough [loss at] my part, like you’re your biggest challenge, competition, drive, obstacle, motivation, etc. so it’s nothing [you] haven’t seen before! Back in the lab tomorrow to continue the drive to striving to be the greatest I’ve ever seen!”
With it was literally a photo of James looking in the mirror — proof, at least, that when LeBron James does look in the mirror, an image of him does appear.