Doing what works

What if I were to argue that football teams should do an onside kick every time they kick off?

If you watched the Super Bowl like I did on Sunday, you saw what happened when the Saints opened the second half with an onside kick.  It's being called arguably the smartest coaching call in Super Bowl history.  Sportswriters are referring to it as "the kick that won the Super Bowl.  It changed the tide of the game and, with one kick, gave all of the momentum–and the ball–to the Saints.

So if it worked so well for the Saints, why not do it every time? 

Because onside kicks almost never work.  They're a desperate long shot reserved for times when a team will lose if they don't get the ball back.  To try them every time would mean that you'd needlessly be giving the ball to your opponent in scoring position.  You'd probably lose every game.  Sunday's kicking call might have been a gutsy one, but Saints fans, coaches, and even the guy who kicked the ball will admit that the Saints were very, very lucky. 

A lot of students approach the college admissions process like recurring onside kickers.  Applying to ten reach schools in the hopes that one will admit you, sending a letter of recommendation from a congressman who's never actually met you, taking the SAT 6 times, these are long shots–wild attempts that almost certainly won't pay off.  They don't work.

Applying to a reasonable number of colleges that fit you well?  That works.  Seeking guidance from people who really know, like high school counselors and admissions officers?  That works.  Preparing and doing your best for standardized test and eventually moving on with your life?  That works. 

Risk isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I think students should dream big.  Work hard.  Go after what you want.  If you've got a dream college that's out of your reach, apply.  Take your best shot (or kick, as it were).  It's your life, and nobody ever became successful by refusing to risk failure.  

But there's a difference between taking smart risks and being desperate.  Desperation almost never works–football and college admissions are no exception (neither is dating, by the way).

The Saints got to the Super Bowl by going 13-3, and they won it in large part because Drew Brees had one of the most successful games for a quarterback in Super Bowl history. 

The occasional onside kick is a good thing in football and in life.  But you still have to do what works.