It’s All in the Uniform

The Psychological Advantages of the Outfit

Posted June 16, 2009 at 5:19pm

Alphabet Soup coach Keith Cunningham had a problem. During the season, he said, his team would always play well. They were loose, confident and ready to go up against the best bats and gloves in the Congressional Softball League. But when the high-stakes annual tournament rolled around, the nerves were too much. The team just couldn’t compete at its highest level.

“During the season, when we are all just drinking beer and laughing, it’s easy to stay loose,— Cunningham said. “The tournament is a different story.—

So, in an attempt to remedy his team’s case of stage fright, he bought all of his players goofy-looking, neon green knee-high socks to wear along with their neon green shirts. Other, more conventional coaches might have gone with the old cliché about picturing the spectators in their underwear, but Cunningham made a convincing case for the knee-highs.

“You know some people come dressed with all this serious stuff, like sliding pants and you’re just like, What a tool,’— he said. “So as a joke I got us all these knee-high socks with really professional-looking stripes that were lime green. It was our way of sort of jokingly intimidating the other team — mocking the seriousness of the game.—

Buying spiffy new additions to their uniforms was a gamble, Cunningham admits, pointing out that “only half the team was willing to wear them at first.— But once his players finally put them on, he said, everyone was laughing and the team loosened up.

The relaxed attitude brought relative success. Alphabet Soup performed particularly well, falling just one run shy of the final four.

“We’ll have to do something even crazier this year,— Cunningham joked. “Maybe corsages or something like that.—

In Congressional softball, uniforms can speak louder than words — though with this bunch, there are certainly plenty of words flying around as well. Cunningham bought socks to tell a joke. But he also uses his team’s bright green shirts to say, “Hey! Over here!—

“We wear lime green, and the reason we chose that was because the league doesn’t really have assigned fields,— he said. “You’re often looking all over the place trying to find your team. If we’re wearing lime green, you’re going to be able to see us from all the way across the Mall.—

Cunningham also buys special patches for his players when they reach 10 years of membership. Remarkably, he said, most of his players have been around long enough to acquire the patch. He has even seen six intrateam marriages — the children of which receive their own special jerseys.

For the No Talent AZ Clowns, the name says it all. But that doesn’t stop them from buying a fresh set of team T-shirts every year. According to coach Steve Burns, players are welcome to submit designs before the beginning of every season. Then, the team votes on the winner.

“We like to keep the process as democratic as possible,— Burns said.

This year, their shirts feature an outline of the state of Arizona with a clown in the middle — straightforward enough.

Burns seemed a bit ashamed to admit that he used the shirts to facilitate team building, saying, “I mean I don’t really want to say they help us bond. I mean that’s what it is, but — not.—

To clarify any confusion, Burns added, “I mean it’s obviously all just for shits and giggles.—

It always is.