A librarian comes by the back table and shushes Cory.
Instead of a mean eye like he shot at me, he offers her an empty stare, as if he didn’t hear her, or maybe didn’t even speak English, blinks and then keeps whispering intensely.
“Good example,” he says to me. “Don’t fight another battle if you’ve already won the war. Time has shown by now that she can’t shush me, but she still tries, because her rules tell her to.”
The librarian shakes her head, huffs her breath and hurries away.
“See, I ignore her because I’ve got a better game face, and she gets frustrated and gives up. I know I don’t have to argue with her because she doesn’t have the nerve to win. I can hear it in her voice.”
“Not only did I save myself the trouble of arguing with her, but I saved her the stress of arguing with me and filling out a form to send me to the office and having to explain later why she tried to shush me when I was whispering to a kid I’m tutoring, which is you, by the way, for the record, even though maybe it’s loud whispering.
“A similar rule works on the playground. If the team is prepared and the captain is on his game, he knows he already has some teams beat. He can save his energy and preserve the standing of his team and the dignity of the other team if he doesn’t accept challenges from bad teams. From the other side, the bad captains should know better not to talk too boldly about a better captain’s team. The better captain can push back by calling out the challenger and making fun of him and his team’s record. If the challenger has a good answer, the better captain can decide whether or not to accept the challenge. But he never wants to get into an argument, because that means he’s lost his cool. If he lost his cool, that means he isn’t on his game, and he was only faking it when he acted like he knew which teams he already had beat.
“A good captain knows his place, whether it is high or low.
“You can save energy or spend it. You have to know which games are worth playing for your team and which ones to skip. Sometimes playing a team better than yours can up your game, and sometimes it can kill your confidence. Sometimes playing a team worse than you can build your confidence, and sometimes it can dull your skills and bring you down to their level. Choose your battles wisely.
“The best way to captain a team to victory is to ruin the other captain’s plan before he gets started so he doesn’t have any moves to make or plays to run; the next best is to take away his most loyal players by showing them you’re a better captain with a better team; the next to last is to beat his team outright in a fair game; and your last resort is to play dirty and win at all costs.
“Winning at all costs could mean sacrificing your players’ loyalty and your pride as a captain, so you should never do it unless you have no other option.
“If your team is way better than the other team, back them down. If your team is better, play them and prove it. If equal, challenge them and win. If worse, plan to learn from your loss. If way worse, just don’t try. If you challenge a team way better than you and the captain accepts the challenge, he’s messing with you. That’s how you get beat and embarrassed. Then your players won’t like to play for you anymore.
“If the captain is on his game, everyone learns something. If not, he gets ignored.
“Well,” I ask, trying to stall for a second and wrap my mind around everything he’s saying. “How do you know when you’re going to win?”
“Know when to play and when to rest. Know how to use your players’ strengths. Know that loyalty goes both ways, player to captain and back. Know how to practice like a winner. Know how to avoid interference from coaches and teachers.
“If you know your team and your opponents, you’ll never lose. If you know yourself but not your opponent you’ll win sometimes. If you don’t know either one, you’re screwed.”