The Whitecaps Look to Strike Balance Complacency and Recklessness

The Vancouver Whitecaps, who have only lost twice in their last 17 games, currently occupy fifth place in the Western Conference table – good enough for an MLS playoff spot if they can hold onto it until the end of October. Despite only four losses this season, Vancouver have largely struggled to collect points, as they are tied with two other clubs for the second most draws in the league thus far. With only a third of the season remaining to solidify a postseason spot, the coaches’ and players’ focus is largely on finding a way to get three points, instead of one, out of each of the remaining games. As a result of the late-season push, players are bringing a noticeably higher level of effort and intensity to training, and the shift in focus was not lost on midfielder Russell Teibert. “I think if you’re content, you’re not pushing for the top,” Teibert noted on Wednesday. “Today was an intense training session. It’s competitive but once we leave the field, everyone forgets about it and we go back to being a family in the locker room… We haven’t plateaued and we’re going to keep going forward and we’re going to keep pushing.” In fact, this ‘pushing’ has, at times, gone overboard. The intensity of recent training sessions has been so high that head coach Carl Robinson had to speak with the players after training one day about the difference between training hard or pushing each other, and being reckless and overly-aggressive in their approach. “We’ve got to stick together as a team and sticking together means getting the best out of each other but in a respectable way,” Robinson said to the media.

These statements shed light on two important mental topics for younger players. First, complacency and contentment are often significant obstacles to continued growth and development as a player. In other words, becoming too satisfied in your achievement and failing to set new goals and new challenges for yourself will often eventually result in a drop in form, if effective habits and preparation are not maintained. This is not to say that you should not take time to value your triumphs. A goal should be celebrated. A win should be enjoyed. A long run of success should make you feel proud. However, the best competitors in the world know that resting on these achievements and failing to continue to exercise good habits will often result in a lack of further progress. As a player, continue to raise the bar higher for yourself. Continue to set new standards so that your improvement and growth do not plateau or become stagnant. Ask yourself on a regular basis if you are engaging in the effective habits that have earned you success in the past. Are you bringing a high level of effort and focus to each training session? Are you taking care of your body through proper stretching, sleep, and nutrition?

Second, while it is important to push yourself and set new challenges for yourself on a daily basis, it is equally important to avoid letting this intensity boil over and result in an injury – to yourself or a teammate. Cohesion can play a significant role in a team’s success, and this chemistry can occasionally be fragile; however, it can be maintained while you are simultaneously pushing players around you to perform to the best of their abilities. There is often a fine line between pushing yourself and your teammates to constantly get better on the field, and letting your effort and intensity get out of control. On the other side of this, if you feel that a teammate was reckless with a challenge during training (on you or another player), it is okay to address it with him or her. However, have the composure and awareness to recognize the appropriate timing in doing so, and the tone you take in communicating. Immediately yelling at another player after he or she goes in late on a tackle will likely not help the situation, as adrenaline levels and intensity are exceptionally high in the moment. Instead, allow for some time to pass, or even wait until after training to address the incident and acknowledge your appreciation for your teammate’s hard work, while also noting the importance of keeping players safe. As Vancouver goes into its final 11 games, a roster full of players eager to prove themselves must continue to avoid complacency through their intensity and effort, while also maintaining a respectful training environment and sticking together.

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Managing Your Frustration With Officials

In all sports, decisions by officials, referees, umpires, or judges may have a significant impact on the outcome of the competition. When their calls change a game, the focus is often directed away from player performance and toward the influence of the referees. This past weekend, two great soccer performances were overshadowed by how the games were officiated. On Saturday, Chelsea shut out Arsenal, 6-0, in Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game as Arsenal manager. During the first half, officials mistook Arsenal defender Kieran Gibbs for Arsenal forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who put out his hand to block a shot on goal. Despite Oxlade-Chamberlain admitting to the handball, officials proceeded to issue Gibbs a red card, causing controversy and outrage from Wenger and the Arsenal players. The following day, there was more talk about the referees’ decisions during El Clasico, between Real Madrid and Barcelona. After Barcelona won 4-3 to remain in the running for the La Liga title, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo commented on the outcome of the game, “It’s a feeling of sadness after being 3-2 up and controlling the game. The referee made some unbelievable decisions, but you have to carry on.

When it comes to referees, you may be pleased or frustrated with their decisions. As a player, however, a referee’s calls are out of your control, and as Ronaldo says, ‘you have to carry on’. In the heat of competition, we may forget that referees are human; they are bound to make mistakes during a game just like the players are. However, as a player this does not mean you can blame the referees’ calls for your loss. During competition, when you don’t approve of a referee’s decision, turn your focus toward what you can control – such as your attitude, your effort, and your communication with teammates and coaches. After a game has ended, rather than complaining about the referee’s influence, objectively evaluate your individual and team performance. Did you play your best? Are you proud of your performance? What could you or your teammates have done better? If you are disappointed with your individual and team performance, determine what you should improve upon in training leading up to your next game, rather than shifting responsibility to the referee. Above all, it is important to manage your attitude and behavior following these competitions. Once the final whistle blows, the game is over, and you cannot change the outcome. Exemplifying good sportsmanship and shaking the hands of your opponents and the officials at the end of competition are signs of a true competitor. Acknowledge the effort and performance of your opponents and congratulate them on winning, rather than turning your focus toward any impact the referees may have had. Referees’ decisions are one of the many factors during competition that are out of your control as a player. Thus, focus on your performance, prepare for your next competition, and ‘carry on’.

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – Pairing Excellence With Sportsmanship

In its first week, the Winter Olympics have offered us a wonderful display – not only through the fantastic performance of elite athletes from around the world, but also through countless moments of exceptional sportsmanship and respect throughout the competition. On Tuesday, in the final stretch of the men’s cross-country skiing freestyle semifinal, Russian competitor Anton Gafarov fell and broke one of his skis. Canadian ski team coach Justin Wadsworth was on the sideline and immediately rushed out onto the course and helped Gafarov onto one of the Canadian team’s spare skis, allowing him to complete the event. In an equally admirable display of sportsmanship that day, Swiss snowboarder Iouri Podladtchikov showed his respect for his biggest rival competitor – American snowboarding legend Shaun White. After White’s final pass on the halfpipe failed to earn him a medal and ensured that Podladtchikov won gold, the Swiss athlete gripped the American in a full embrace and congratulated him on his run. On the respect he has for his top rival, Podladtchikov stated that “He’s always pushing the limits and that’s just exciting to watch. You want those kinds of people to win because they are pushing themselves more than anybody else…It just motivates me. He made me go out there and try new tricks…

As young athletes develop and advance to higher levels in sport, they could lose sight of the importance of sportsmanship, as more and more emphasis is placed on winning. However, while it is natural to focus on performing at your best and beating your opponent, it is also important to acknowledge their talents and efforts and the extent to which they help to create a competitive environment that challenges you to test your ability each day. Regardless of how intense a rivalry may become, elite competitors understand how much they rely on an opponent to motivate them and lift their game to a higher level. There are specific ways to acknowledge your opponent and treat him or her with respect throughout competition. Stopping play when they are injured or helping them back to their feet after a foul are ways of demonstrating sportsmanship and recognizing their part in helping to maintain a competitive environment. After a game, be sure to shake hands with your opponent, complimenting them on their effort and their performance. Further, this sportsmanship should not stop with athletes; coaches, like Wadsworth, who demonstrate sportsmanship before, during, and after competition, set a strong example for how younger competitors should behave. On one of the highest athletic stages in the world, displays of sportsmanship by coaches and athletes like Wadsworth and Podladtchikov demonstrate to athletes and spectators everywhere that athletes can compete with intensity at the highest level and still maintain respect for competitors and for competition itself.

Wawrinka Wins With Grace

On Sunday, Swiss tennis player Stan Wawrinka won his first grand slam title, beating Spanish opponent Rafael Nadal, the world’s top-ranked player, in the finals of the Australian Open. Wawrinka won the first set handily, and then early in the second set, Nadal appeared to injure his back. The Spaniard’s level of play dropped significantly, as he was in obvious pain. Although Nadal rallied and was able to win the third set, Wawrinka went on to beat him 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Despite this being the highlight of Wawrinka’ career, he simply raised his arms and went to the net to shake hands with Nadal. Similarly, following the match, Nadal dismissed questions from the media, simply stating that “This is Stan’s day, not my day.” This performance was remarkable for its display of sportsmanship on the part of both athletes. Rather than focusing on his excitement and the historic victory, as is common at these moments, Wawrinka’s muted display showed outstanding respect for Nadal and acknowledged the difficult circumstances under which he played the match. Nadal, too, showed respect for his opponent by shifting the attention back to Wawrinka’s performance, away from his own performance struggles.

As a player, it is your responsibility to show good sportsmanship and respect your opponent throughout competition by acknowledging their effort and their part in creating an environment in which you can compete. While the high intensity of a game can heighten your emotions on the field, it is important that you know how to manage them. It undoubtedly feels good to win or succeed, and likewise, it can be devastating to lose or fall short. However, good sportsmanship means playing by the rules and having discipline and self-control throughout your performance, as well as after it. Whether you win or lose, good sportsmanship requires you to manage heightened emotions. Following a game, you should be sure to shake the hands of opposing coaches and referees, making direct eye contact as you do so. Even if you had a rivalry with a player during the game, let go of the animosity and aggression after the final whistle. Show respect for your teammates by encouraging them during the run of play, especially when they make mistakes. Show respect for your sport by playing fairly and not arguing with coaches or officials. Finally, show respect for your opponents by celebrating a victory without gloating or humiliating other players, and when you lose, doing so graciously. Overall, good sports enjoy playing the game regardless of the outcome and this helps them handle both disappointments and victories with grace, just as Stan Wawrinka did in his victory over Nadal.

2013 NCAA Men’s Soccer National Final – Remembered for Talent and Integrity

The 2013 NCAA Division I men’s soccer season came to a close on Sunday afternoon when Notre Dame won its first National Championship over the University of Maryland, 2-1. An outstanding weekend of soccer was capped off with a back and forth affair between the two ACC programs, led by their star players and Hermann Trophy Finalists: Harrison Shipp for the Fighting Irish, and the Terrapins’ Patrick Mullins. Both players made their mark on the game, as Shipp assisted on the game-winning goal by fellow senior Andrew O’Malley, and Mullins opened up the scoring for Maryland in the first half. Despite Mullins’ performance, much of the postgame talk focused on the controversy surrounding his goal in the 35th minute to open the game’s scoreline. Following a corner, a Terrapin shot was saved off the line by the arm of a Notre Dame player; yet, the whistle for a penalty kick and a likely red card never came. The rebound bounced out to Mullins who, in turn, used his own hand to settle the ball, turn, and rifle a shot into the side netting to give Maryland an early 1-0 lead. Notre Dame went on to equalize before halftime, and win the game off O’Malley’s goal in the 60th minute.

In the postgame interview, Mullins – the favorite to win his second consecutive Hermann Trophy, as well as the probable top pick in the MLS SuperDraft – admitted to intentionally touching the ball with his arm. “In the heat of the moment, I hit it down with my hand and, like any good forward, I hit it in the net,” Mullins said. “That’s not who I am and I’m very disappointed in how that play resulted…. I will regret that one for the rest of my life.” Cheating or bending the rules to gain an upper hand in a game is never a justifiable course of action for an athlete. Yet, mistakes can happen, especially in highly competitive environments when adrenaline is high and competition is fierce. Although Mullins scored as a result of breaking the rules, he showed sportsmanship and integrity in openly and honestly addressing the handball, as well as his disappointment in his own actions. If you find that you have made a bad decision or broken the rules in the heat of the moment, you can still control how you respond; after the play or after the game, you can choose to act professionally and maturely and admit to the mistake. This shows respect for the game and for your opponent. Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski noted his admiration for his star striker: “When I build my stadium, I’m going to bronze a statue with him out front,” Cirovski said. “He’s made from the best stuff on earth. [The handball] affected him. It affected him a lot…. His conscience was hurting.” Mullins’ immediate willingness to admit and show regret for the handball set a strong example of the highest standard of an athlete and a person. His sportsmanship, respect, attitude, and integrity will take him a long way in what is sure to be an outstanding professional career.

For the Red Sox and Yankees, Respect Transcends Rivalry

Across sports, the most anticipated and competitive games often involve the most heated rivalries between legendary teams or individuals: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Duke vs. North Carolina, Nadal vs. Federer, Red Sox vs. Yankees. As the passion and energy surrounding these matchups builds and builds, and the contests become more intense, principles such as respect, sportsmanship, and integrity are often lost in the heat of competition. Yet, in spite of the historic and often bitter rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, the two clubs shared in commemorating a special occasion at Boston’s Fenway Park. Legendary relief pitcher for the Yankees, Mariano Rivera, is nearing the end of his final season before retiring from Major League Baseball. As a tribute to one of the greatest closers in baseball history, the Red Sox honored Rivera’s career and final game at Fenway with several gifts, before each Boston player shook his hand as the stadium PA system announced: “We tip our cap to the great Rivera, a fierce competitor and a gentleman.”

Rivera embodies a rare breed of loyalty in modern sport, having played for only one club for his entire career (spanning nearly two decades). As a result, Red Sox fans are used to seeing him in pinstripes, and Rivera himself is well acquainted with the fierce rivalry that exists between two of the most successful clubs in baseball history. Yet, regardless of the intensity of a rivalry, players, coaches, parents, and fans should not forget that respect, sportsmanship, and integrity all play an important role in the game they love. Respect for the skill, effort, and character of one’s opponent is an integral part of achieving true greatness in a sport. Taking the time to help opponents back to their feet after tackles, shaking their hands after a game (win or lose), and using respectful language toward players, coaches, parents, and referees during a match are responsibilities of all athletes – from youth athletes to professionals. Athletes demonstrate respect for both opponents and the game itself with these behaviors. No matter how competitive a game may seem, the value in sportsmanship and respect toward an opponent should not be lost or ignored in the heat of a rivalry. The tribute paid by the Red Sox to Mariano Rivera demonstrates that no game is more important than respect and sportsmanship in competition.

Sportsmanship Stands Out in the Champions League Final

There may be a time in your life when your team is preparing for a championship game. Can you picture the scenario? Your warm-up is on target, you’re feeling energized, and you are ready to go! The game is a dog fight, a gritty battle, and the score is 1-1 after the 68th minute. It remains this way until the 89th minute of the game. Suddenly, the other team strikes and you are out of time to change the score.

No team wants to finish second after a season of hard fought battles. But, the reality of sports is that there can only be one champion. Borussia Dortmund faced this reality on Saturday, May 25th, when they were defeated in the UEFA Champions League Final by Bayern Munich. A defeat like this could have been devastating to Dortmund, but instead, it was a moment to bask in the accomplishments of their season and show good sportsmanship. Sportsmanship, put simply, is showing respect for one’s opponent, teammates, and self, playing within the rules of the game, and being humble regardless of the outcome. Dortmund demonstrated sportsmanship by holding their heads high and taking pride in their performance, despite the unfavorable outcome. They further conveyed sportsmanship by wearing their silver medals with respect and dignity.

Sportsmanship is a crucial skill for any player to learn in order to take his/her sport to the next level. When you behave respectfully after a win or a loss, it not only sets a good reputation for your club, but also it puts you in the right mindset to bounce back from your mistakes and evaluate your performance with a level head.

To practice sportsmanship, take notice of your behavior after wins and losses. To help with this, you can ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Am I respecting myself, my teammates, and my opponents?
    2. How is my attitude affecting my ability to learn from this game?

Good sportsmanship can be achieved by respecting the contributions and hard work of all players, playing fair, and practicing humility.