It's All About ME
I recently read an article focused on a rant by University of Conneticut’s Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma. The interview expresses the difficulty in recruiting the best players due to the ‘me’ culture in sports today. The hardship in recruiting is peculiar considering that UConn's Women’s Basketball program is undefeated in two years - it should be easy. However, the focus on the character of today’s generation players cannot be understated and Auriemma hits the nail on the head.
I played NCAA Division 1 Soccer at Liberty University from 1998 – 2002. My freshman year saw me enter the programme as a prominent right-back and I earned a starting position through my pre-season performances. Coming from Vancouver where I had never experienced sitting on the bench combined with an ego that had convinced myself of being the best right-back around, I didn’t even think that ‘earning’ a starting position was part of the deal. From then on, I had to maintain my position with a Senior right-back who had started the previous three seasons breathing down my neck – a challenge tougher than actually winning the position in the first instance. As the season wore on, my body tired and mid-way through, I lost my position. The remainder of the season saw me play anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes per game – I was humbled. It was a test of my mental strength and taught me a lesson that this game was not about ‘me’ and my ego but rather putting the team in the best position to win. I found it difficult to deal with and at times, I felt sorry for myself. Ultimately, I had no choice but to suck it up and put in the extra hours to be better – and while I was not starting, to support my teammates and learn from watching.
My sporting idols were people with intelligence and desire - Leonardo, Brazil’s left fullback and Michael Jordan, the best NBA player of all time. I adored the electricity of Pavel Bure, the Russian Rocket who played for the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL. None of the players were showboats or had a ‘me’ mentality – this taught me to give 100% for the team rather than myself.
In today’s sporting world we get to observe certain embarrassing football celebrations of players scoring and praising themselves by pointing to the name on the back of the shirt rather than the crest on the chest – we know your bloody name numpty. We see players focused more on the colour of their football boots rather than what they do when wearing them. We view kids imitating footballer’s hairstyles rather than step-overs. Most of all, we see youngsters more concerned with their own statistics rather than the result of their team. I admire Auriemma's philosophy of ensuring engagement from players off the court as well as on it to which he explains in the below video.
I recently had a discussion with a colleague at work about his 12 year old son and he was telling me how he was part of a development league which costs upwards of $2,500 per year. On top of that, he spends $400 - $500 on a pair of football boots, at 12 years old. Add on the travel, tournament fees, tracksuits etc. and we are almost asking our kids families to pay as much as hockey players do – something we use to baulk at.
I put all of the above together and discover a game which has emanated from having to put in blood, sweat and tears to achieve success to success being defined by image, appearance and spending power. Until you have earned your salt, you have no right to demand a pair of boots worth $400 is my opinion. The hours on end of practice, the highs and more importantly, the lows teach invaluable life lessons which should be the main priority of youth football – not the brand of your boots or a hairstyle imitating Cristiano Ronaldo.
The role of coaches and parents is massive in the control and development in youth players. There are three things which I think will elevate players to levels beyond their capabilities, listed below:
1. Work Hard. Practice with the team is one thing but putting in extra time to work on your weaker foot or heading technique will develop ability but also embed a work ethic that is mandatory at the highest level.
2. Be humble. You may be great but there is most likely someone out there better than you. Learn from others and be open to criticism. Ultimately, you should be your own worst critic.
3. Never give up. Football, as life, will relentlessly knock you down - the strong survive by getting up and fighting. Don’t be discouraged because failure is part of success – it’s the lifeblood of being great.