Bleeding Red: Yo, gimme five – Energy is key to Utes’ success

There’s nothing like a high five
To pick you up when you’re down
It will help you come alive
And will chase away your frown

COMMENTARY – There has been some focus on team unity the last couple of weeks among sports in the state of Utah. One of the main focuses for the Utah Jazz this past week – outside of Gordon Hayward’s finger injury – is an emphasis of building chemistry and team unity amongst the returning and new players on the team.

utesAnd the Runnin’ Utes men’s basketball team – that’s right the 2016-17 basketball season is close upon us – have talked about how much the team has bonded during a recent special training with the Navy Seals.

“We’re coming together,” said Kyle Kuzma. “This whole summer, we were kind of a little distant because 12 new guys don’t really know each other. We had our little Navy Seals ordeal and sat around a bonfire and talked about where we came from, our backgrounds, and who we are. From that point on, you could start to see chemistry build and stuff.” More news to come for basketball soon, but it is encouraging that the team is bonding well before the season starts.

As for football, after beating Arizona there is a lot for Utah to feel good about. The Utes are 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play, which puts them in a tie for first in the Pac-12 South. Kyle Whittingham has now won his 100th career game as the Utes head coach and is 100-47 in his 12 seasons at Utah.

Utah honored coach Kyle Whittingham after he recorded his 100th victory as head coach Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Utah honored coach Kyle Whittingham after he recorded his 100th victory as head coach Saturday night. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

Coincidentally, his first regular season victory as head coach was against the Wildcats back in the 2005 season opener. This also ends a four-game losing streak to Arizona since Utah joined the Pac-12. Despite all of this, there is still a number of things that the Utes can and should do to get aboard the team chemistry and unity train.

There’s an interesting study going on in Phoenix, where the NBA’s Suns have started tracking the amount of high fives that they give each other per game. Why are they doing this? Well, an article in USA Today explains: “Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, in 2015 took one game of every NBA team at the start of the year and coded all of the fist bumps, embraces and high fives … Keltner found that the teams that made more contact with each other were helping out more on defense, setting more screens, and overall playing more efficiently and cooperatively. This seems kind of brilliant – players giving their teammates some love can only help, whether it’s encouragement after a bad play or praise after a good one, for positive reinforcement.”

This makes a lot of sense. I know that in my experience of playing team sports there are a lot of high fives, pats on the butt, hugs, and laughing. It’s a great way to release the energy you feel when you’re doing well and to keep that energy going amongst your teammates. Also, it’s a great way to keep yourself and your team positive when things are not going well and to generate energy. Never underestimate the power of a positive mind.

Pasoni Tasini's safety in the second quarter was a game changer. | AP Photo
Pasoni Tasini’s safety in the second quarter was a game changer. | AP Photo

One of the best examples that I can give from Saturday night’s game is when Utah forced the safety late in the second quarter. As soon as the play was over, a number of Ute players ran to the end zone to celebrate with high fives and chest bumps. Up to that point in the game, Utah was struggling on offense and it was affecting the whole team. The players on the field and the Ute bench looked slow, quiet, and there was very little energy. That safety injected a spark of energy that began to grow, leading to a Utah touchdown to close the gap to 14-12 heading into halftime.

“Safeties tend to do that,” Whittingham said. “For whatever reason, people get really excited about safeties. That’s one of the impact plays that seem to get the crowd going and the defense in particular.”

Despite this, Utah really needs to work on its energy and team unity. Yes, they are working together, but I am not seeing much energy between plays. The energy was fantastic from the time of the safety through the rest of the game, but what about when things were not so great in the first half? That is what I am most worried about. When they were struggling in the first half, the Utes looked like a bunch of zombies on the field and you don’t want your football team to be zombies. That team would almost be more terrible than the Pac-12 teams from the state of Oregon this season.

“Wasn’t an ideal start again. For some reason we’ve gotten into a habit of getting behind,” Whittingham said. “First half was a little sluggish and we didn’t get much done offensively.”

It was fabulous that the Utes got that safety, but they can’t always rely on a play like that to energize them when things are going south. They need to find a way to generate energy within themselves and each other before those plays occur – and have fun. After all, this is a game and games are meant to be fun! So come on Utes! Show me some high fives, butt slaps, chest bumps and dabs. If they can pick up the energy levels, I have no doubt they will keep moving and grooving straight to the Pac-12 championship game.

Here’s hoping an energized Utah team extends its winning streak this Saturday as it travels to Corvallis to take on Oregon State.

Today’s Bleeding Red sports column is guest-written by Josh Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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