While phrases such as ‘defense wins championships’ are constantly thrown around sports, many spectators would much prefer to attend a high-scoring battle than a neck and neck 0-0 affair. Strong defense, unfortunately, often goes unappreciated. Games such as Duke men’s basketball’s 52-50 low-scoring battle with Virginia Saturday get classified by the teams’ ‘sloppy offense’ and ‘lack of excitement’. On the flip side, after Duke’s 113-101 loss Tuesday at Wake Forest, the criticism was centered around the fact that the Blue Devils ‘couldn’t score down the stretch’, despite the fact that it was one of the worst defensive performances in the Coach K era.
When covering live sports, the media constantly zooms in on the action surrounding the ball and the players with the ball. We are primed to look through the lens of the offensive player and the outcome of the situation is almost never attributed to the defensive effort. The reason a player took a bad shot is often not due to the individual’s decision-making, but rather due to either strong defense on the player with the ball, or strong secondary coverage eliminating the possibility of a pass.
On a similar note, the moments we remember and see years later are overwhelmingly the historic goals, baskets and home runs, rather than the strong saves, late-game blocks and diving catches that saved the game. This drastically affects how youth athletes set their priorities. Playing sports as a child, the focus is always offense first. If you are given a soccer ball and a net, the first instinct is to immediately focus on scoring the ball in the net while trying to imitate a star attacker or famous goal in the process. If there is no net, the emphasis will likely lie instead on working on dribbling or other footwork skills.
The importance of defense often is not recognized until you’ve been playing for a few years. Since the camera shields fans from viewing the entire team’s defensive effort, we are tuned to understand the offensive strategy first. Most people understand the concept of passing to the open man with the hope of scoring a goal and, regardless of how it happens, a goal is always a positive outcome. Turning the ball over, however, is a much fuzzier line. After watching years of sport one can tell the difference between a bad pass or strong defense, but to an untrained eye making that judgement is much more difficult.
That differentiation becomes much more difficult when you are watching the game live. If you are too far from the field, it is very hard to see whether or not the opposition played a factor or deflected the ball, unless the defender slid or dove. If you are standing on the sidelines it still is often hard to tell and because of this, the focus relies on whether or not the team lost the ball versus why the team may have lost the ball. In order to get the casual fan more focused on defense, the media needs to do a better job of establishing a defensive mindset for the average viewer. Whether that be explaining the team’s defensive set or continuing to show replays of controversial defensive plays during the game, a more defensive-minded audience will go a long way in enhancing the appreciation for solid defense across sport.