Ok there's one thing that happens all over sports that drives me nearly insane. Players say it all the time, TV guys say it, newspaper guys say it, bloggers, commentators, message board posters, coaches, fans. Every person in sports says it and it drives me nuts.
It's the "effort". Every time a team loses, or isn't playing well "We need to give more effort". "We didn't put in a very good effort tonight". "The coach needs to make sure these guys play with more effort". It's a bunch of crap.
Most of the time it's not a "lack of effort" that causes a team to play poorly. In fact the most important factors in how well a hockey player plays is preparedness, mistakes, experience, fatigue, fitness, age, teammates level of play, opponents level of play, luck, circumstance, and mental well-being. It rarely has to do with level of effort. Humans are complicated, there are nights when a player plays exceptionally well. I know, from experience that there are times when I play a sport and everything feels right. Then I'll have spells where I feel like I play like crap. I make mental mistakes, I am out of position, I feel a step slow. But one thing is constant throughout both good and bad spells, my effort.
And yes, there are times when a team seems like it's trying harder than others. There are times when players get an edge, like the playoffs, against former teams, against a rival. It will look like a player is, for lack of a better term, "trying a little bit harder". But sports psychology and the human body are complicated. To expect someone to work at peak intensity all the time is like asking your car to redline all the time. Many of the times when an athlete "quits" it's because of low morale.
One of the most important aspects of combat is morale. A unit with a low morale will perform poorly. The human psyche is fragile and low morale means the individual will not execute efficiently. If a military regiment, one that is fighting for their very lives, can "not give good effort" because of morale it's safe to say that morale is more complicated than "just giving more effort." Sure the symptoms of low morale in hockey may be not finishing checks, and lackadaisical play which are easily confused with "lack of effort", but if it was as simple as trying harder it'd be easier to fix. It's not. It's entirely normal for humans to have mental lapses, physical lapses, and yes intensity lapses.
Not only is the "lack of effort" cliché (and yes it's up for honorary induction to the cliché hall of fame) grossly overused and unfair, but it's dehumanizing too. To say a player played poorly because of "A lack of effort" is to make the player a shallow 2-dimensional being. Since we all know they have talent if they play poorly it HAS to be the effort right? The use of "a poor effort" generalizes athletes to the point that they become something else. It strips them of their humanity and makes them nothing but dispensable cogs in the machine that is our team.
Even in the 5-1 drubbing the Avs took in this series I don't feel like they weren't trying. I felt like they weren't playing well. And maybe towards the end they let they became a little demoralized, and a little hesitant. The effort was there, it was the execution that was awful though. There are times when people don't try hard, but it's few and far between. We, as fans, need to use that label sparingly and accurately and not throw it around like fixing it will solve all the ills. Let's recognize that a poor performance is what it is: a poor performance. There are many factors that contribute to it, and lack of effort is probably not one of them.
So let's challenge ourselves, as fans, to come up with a better explanation for a poor performance, or even better yet no explanation is necessary. A player performed poorly. That's all we need to know.