Dribbling Metaphors (and Other Sporting Pursuits)

The grammar coach works with a recalcitrant verb

 A Grammar Coach Works with a Recalcitrant Verb

It’s easy to tire of the exhausted sports metaphor: “He dropped the ball; it’s in your court; that was a slam dunk; we had to punt.” Most clichés have altogether lost their pepper, but ones involving sporting feats—employed with particularly ruthless disregard for their applicability in the business world—seem to have withered before they even rounded second base. So for me to drag you, punting and dunking, into an arena where basketball is used as a metaphorical muse for writing might cause you to think this is an exercise in sweaty nonsense.

And yet. This past weekend I went to a professional basketball game in Santa Cruz, where the Oakland Warriors have their D (developmental) League team. If you’ve watched (or even played) much basketball, it can look like a manic maelstrom of movement, the ball whipping from player to player, defenders darting, many a feint and many a collision of shoulders and legs. And that’s just on one possession of the ball. It begins all over again when the ball changes hands.

But when a team is running the court in high gear, when passes are crisp, cuts away from or to the basket are sharp, when a jump shot floats off the fingers of the shooter like a soft fluttering dove to nestle in the net, it’s a thing of beauty. That’s how it is when words, sentences, paragraphs are working right. There is motion in language, there is exchange of motion, there is anticipation and delivery. The smooth pause can lead to an explosive conclusion; a quiet turn of phrase can open up a delicate cat and mouse communication, one that can lead to a ferocious end or a finessed bit of finery.

Words Work in Teams

While I watched the action on the court, word weirdo that I am, I thought how words work in teams, how there is an energy exchange between words, and how when you move them around in different ways, their meaning is recast. So it is with the movement on the court. Of course, the court movement can have a slapdash, arrhythmic outcome, as can a poorly rendered sentence or paragraph. Use the wrong verb and your sentence sags. Put your center out on top of your offense in place of your point guard, and watch your offense go to sleep.

I also started thinking of how your first-string team (your conflicted protagonist, the opening lines of your blog post, the value prop of your business) is supported by the structural material of your second string team (the backstory, the summary section of the blog, the features/benefits box), and how your bench material can hold the dam together while the prime design shines. But then I realized I was mixing sports metaphors with other writing clichés, kind of like making a meal of old boxing gloves and thumbtacks, and nobody’s hungry for that. Slam dunk!

Addendum: Awesome Engagement (and Comment for Cash)

I am a finalist in Firepole Marketing’s Awesome Engagement Strategies guest-posting contest. My post, which is about how being a human being in your dealings with clients or with your audience is so much more helpful than being a crazed-for-sales wolverine, is running now. I’d greatly appreciate it you’d stop by and agree, disagree or leave an epic poem in the comments section. The five best commenters throughout the contest get $100. If I win the contest, I get to do some kind of go-go dancing with Danny Iny, the site’s head honcho, so go out and buy some thigh-high white boots for me in anticipation.