In the 10th inning of a scoreless game, Freddie Freeman bloops a single into short center field at Petco Park to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 1–0 lead. The Dodgers won the game and set a new franchise win record with 107 wins.
Yet the Dodgers passed this meaningful milestone without fanfare. After winning the National League West, Dodgers players and fans expressed their focus on winning the World Series; the opinion of the team appeared that no one wished to celebrate early. However, this attitude of “title or bust” mostly leads to disappointment — given the terrifically tough odds that even the most dominant of teams face when competing for a championship. Considering the difficulty of winning a championship, elite teams such as the Dodgers should see it as perfectly acceptable to instead celebrate small wins.
When I was younger, my favorite part of watching baseball was watching the teams celebrate after important wins, such as when the Dodgers jumped into the Arizona Diamondbacks pool after clinching the division by beating them in 2013, or when Cardinals fans celebrated a walk-off home run in the sixth inning of the 2011 World Series — a win which forced a game seven. Even if those accomplishments are just one step along the path of a grander journey, celebrations are simply fun, and they provide an opportunity for fans and players alike to bask in the accomplishments of a sports team.
Psychology can teach us about the progress principle, which is the idea that smaller victories keep people more engaged and positive when looking towards accomplishing larger goals. For this process to work, small wins need to be recognized and not regarded as insignificant. In the realm of professional sports, recognition of small wins means celebrating them. Applying the progress principle would keep the team’s, and their fans’, morale up when aiming for championships. Morale is important for sports teams because it helps athletes stay motivated and engaged — ingredients which are necessary for winning at the highest level.
In sports, there exists a large stigma against celebrating early. Teams that celebrate wins prematurely are laughed off as arrogant and unsportsmanlike. While it’s true that a team shouldn’t celebrate a championship before they’ve won it, there is nothing wrong with taking some time to commemorate a small victory — since losing a championship does not exactly invalidate milestones a team may have reached along the way. For example, the Dodgers lost the 2013 National League Championship Series, but my memory of the pool party celebration remains untainted.
Another instance of conflicting attitudes to post-game celebrations occurred during the New England Patriots’ 2019 season. The Patriots were dominant throughout the regular season, winning the AFC East with a 12–4 record, setting an NFL record by hitting their 17th consecutive season with 10+ wins each. After passing this milestone and achieving a record of 10–1, Tom Brady propagated the attitude that there was no reason for celebration and that the team still had much work to do. Tom Brady in particular is known for his hesitancy to celebrate games during the regular season, and he tends to remain stoic even after notable wins. Fellow Patriots teammate, Rob Gronkowski, was opposed to this attitude, asserting, “You should be pumped about the win.” Although players can still learn from mistakes made during a significant win, it is also important that they take some time to enjoy their accomplishments. This feeling of satisfaction will keep players chasing further milestones in the future.
It is also important to note that the Patriots lost the 2019 season to the Tennessee Titans, and, as this was Brady’s last game with the Patriots, fans and players missed out on the opportunity to celebrate Brady and the Patriots one last time. Fans of elite teams should feel free to celebrate at points during the season without feeling like they’re lowering their chances at winning the championship. No matter how dominant a sports team may be, fans and players should always take time to recognize and celebrate accomplishments. Celebrating together is what makes sports so special, even if it’s just for one night.