Did you catch the NHL All-Star weekend festivities? I loved it all. Not just because I am a huge fan of hockey, but because I am also a fan of the human spirit. Sure, there were some amazing examples of just why these guys are masters at their craft. I certainly would never volunteer to stand in front of a Shea Weber slapshot no matter how much padding I had on. And Evgeny Kuznetzov, the Wizard of Washington, is a delight to watch as he snakes around and through crowds to put an exclamation point on an impossible pass.
I was more interested, though, in the personal stories that emerged from this year's celebration. The most obvious was that of John Scott, underdog fan favorite who, despite urging the fans to "vote for my teammates," won a place on the coveted roster. Within two weeks of that news, he got word he was being traded from Arizona to Montreal. Montreal immediately sent him down to the minors. No stranger to such abrupt changes, Scott handled it like a true professional. The NHL, however, was conflicted. How could he compete at the All-Stars now, and as a team captain, no less? In the end, Scott was allowed to join in. He not only joined, he shined. He scored two goals and emerged as MVP of the game. Fans adored him, even his fellow all-stars cheered and encouraged him. They hoisted his huge frame (about 7' tall on skates) on their shoulders, as he beamed. If you're interested in Scott's account of events leading up to the game, read the article he wrote for the Players Tribune, "A Guy Like Me." It's both touching and inspiring.
Young fans everywhere should take notice of the sportsmanship on display. The fact that all of these egos were able to play nice together is encouraging. One player remarked when asked about the $1 million prize for the winning team, "I don't think any of the guys are playing for the money. It's a pride thing." I can believe that; surely none of these guys are hurting for pocket change. Pride is a powerful motivator. To be a superstar, you must take pride in all you do, in the way you prepare, the effort you give in practice, the devotion to the game and to your teammates. Pride allows you to be confident you are performing at your best at all times. You won't allow yourself anything less.
John Scott should feel proud of how he handled himself. He was rewarded for his humility, his effort and determination to prove that he deserved to play alongside the best in the league. Even if only for the weekend. But for now, that is all that mattered.
Robert Griffin III probably thought social media was the key to his connection to his growing fan base when he first came to Washington. He happily shared his thoughts about his opportunity to play for the Redskins, his workouts, his expectations for himself. His Twitter followers gobbled up every tweet and responded with overwhelming positivity, encouragement and support. At the mention of his pending nuptials, fans everywhere flooded his home with gifts from his and his fiancee's bridal registry. The humble and grateful gentleman hand-wrote hundreds of thank you notes to his generous fans.
When the unthinkable happened and Griffin found himself under the knife, fans rallied on social media with words of encouragement. Griffin shared his personal recovery timetable, goals and struggles. I, too, was very interested in his discussion of his mental recovery (RGIII's Mental Game).
Social media, however, can be a double-edged sword. Even as it nurtured and lifted the bonds between favorite athlete and appreciated fans, it soon served as a method of slow, methodical destruction when the going got tough.
As Griffin's return proved more difficult and a second injury and rehabilitation effort hampered his efforts to be the exciting dual threat as per his billing, comments and debates ensued. Negativity grew. Griffin, for all of his humility and affability, could hardly hide the hurt he was beginning to feel with the backlash. He is human, after all. Study after study shows negative comments far outweigh positive when it comes to what our human brains attend and hang on to. It takes at least 10 positive comments to soften the blow of one negative.
For Griffin, the positives fell far short. The change in Griffin's once engaging and humorous larger-than-life personality had become painfully evident. If only we could tell ourselves, "Who cares what people say or think" of us. But sometimes that is a bell which cannot be un-rung.
[Full disclosure is warranted here: I am a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. And while not wishing to disclose my age, I did cheer for the Fun Bunch, the Hogs, and had a schoolgirl crush on Joe Theismann. I actually got to meet him once at the old Redskins Park after a practice. You could actually get close to the building back then. It was a great day I still talk about. I got an autograph and had a nice little chat which I will always remember--I'm sure he does too. OK maybe he doesn't. Still...I "knew" Joe Theismann just from watching him play. This was long before social media. How would things have been different then? How about a tweet to NY Giants Lawrence Taylor after the game which ended Theismann's career? "Man, LT, we were just wishing u luck when we said break a leg LOL" But I digress...]
Athletes who elect to put themselves out there on social media need to prepare for the inevitable bad that goes with the good. Prepare for how to handle and process what come in. Ideally, refraining from reading comments would keep negativity away, but we all know that is nearly impossible. A bit of perspective is required.
Remember that for the vast majority of "followers," social media affords an anonymous identity through which anything can be said without consequence. But for the celebrity athlete, such anonymity does not exist. Responses and reactions to negative anonymous postings should be kept to a minimum.
Athletes should strive to portray themselves in a positive light. Social media is a great way to do this, if done properly. And while it is great to feel the fans love, it must be taken for what it is--anonymous, conditional, and often, fleeting.
Athletes must decide who in their lives are truly important to them, whose opinions matter, who is really there for them. Anything and anyone else cannot be of great influence. It is the only way to protect oneself from mental anguish in bad times.
RGIII will bounce back. He is a proven warrior, who has beaten the odds with his style, and has impressed and entranced thousands of fans with his humanness. But the only one he really needs to fully support him is himself.
I'm sure everyone has been wondering, "How is Christie's skating coming along?" I mean, it's been 2+ years of lessons now (one 30-minute lesson per week--summers off--and three 90 minute skating sessions per week--again, summers off). So it's time for a check-in to see all the amazing progress.
I have been applying principles of sport psychology, using my mental tools to help me learn and develop skills, mentally rehearse and perform with confidence. One tool I had purposely neglected to use--and I had my own good reasons--was videotaping my practices.
While videotaping practices and performances has a number of very positive uses for athletes, for me, the idea of possibly seeing that the reality didn't match the beautiful fantasy in my mind, was a slope as slippery as the ice I magically sail upon.
Content to use observation of other skaters and my coach as my examples of proper execution, my visualization practice involved seeing myself and my skating from a first-person point of view. I would see the ice, the rink, my skates, from an internal perspective, not third-person the way I actually appear to others.
In my images, I perform the skills just as I've seen others perform them. This has been effective in learning the basics, improving my confidence on the ice, and helping the movements to flow a little better. Eager to share my incredible accomplishments, I invited my husband and kids to the rink so they could be blown away by my progress. My husband brought out the video camera, and for once I was OK with it.
When I finally watched the video, however, I realized the person on it was not exactly me, or the me I'd imagined in my head. There was definitely vast improvement but I could pick out a lot of things I was not doing well, to put it kindly. The confidence I felt on the inside when on the ice did not show on the video.
At first I was devastated by the disconnect and wanted to just throw in the towel. After all, this is just a hobby. But the competitive side of me--and the sport psychologist--searched for the silver lining. I have reached a point in my training where I can stay stagnant or make a great leap forward. It's up to me.
I can now integrate video into my active toolkit and make it work for me at a level it could not have when I was a mere beginner. The key for me is to watch with ego firmly detached, and observe from a perspective of learning, tweaking, perfecting. Rather than blissfully practice skills "slightly wrong," when I'm on the ice, I will focus on the aspects of each move and how to perform them perfectly.
Practice makes perfect? Only if it is perfect practice. It will require taking a few steps back in order to bound ahead.
I actually look forward to getting back out there and practicing with renewed focus. I look forward to my next video, too. Never thought I'd say that.
For many years, attempts have been made to just do away with the third place game in the World Cup. The players agree they come to the World Cup to win. Anything less, pun intended, is no "consolation." Teams vary as to how they have approached the game in the past. Some have even managed to let loose and have fun. Let's look at this year's contenders and how they approached the game.
Brazil likely wanted to just get it over with. But they had something to prove. To their fans, to themselves, to their country. They saw in this final game an opportunity to prove they were more than the sum total of the goals against them in the semifinal against eventual champions Germany.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, apparently didn't want the hassle of changing their return plane tickets home, so reluctantly agreed to stay and play the game they supposedly love one...more...time. Something like that.
I'm sure the fans who spent the money and took the time to travel great distances to wear the orange (and I do mean orange--see under, "whoa, that is a bright color! We will be seen!) or to "root, root, root" for the home team, appreciate the players' acquiescence. But don't they deserve more? What is it all really about, anyway?
Is it about young men who have loved the game for their lifetimes and dedicated themselves to playing and perfecting their craft? Men who would do anything just to be out there playing?
Is it about the fans, people who may have their differences at home, but who can come together in harmony to share whatever comes as one collective entity, cheering, celebrating, jeering or consoling?
As soon as you hear comments from the players and coaches voicing their disdain for anything less than victory, it makes you wonder. It makes me wonder where along the line the values we try to instill in our young athletes have gone off track. "Winning isn't everything" has become, as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal so bluntly put it, "There's only one prize, one award that counts, and that is becoming champion. This match should never be played. Teams don't want to play for third place." Dutch forward, Arjen Robben added, of the possibility of a third place medal, "They can keep it."
It is disappointing to know now that the team who had some real emotion in playing, some motivation, was left with nothing. Brazil wanted to be professionals, to show their character. It didn't manifest in a win, but I give them credit for their attitude and drive. In the face of semifinal humiliation in front of their home crowd, they took their consolation game as a challenge and opportunity. It will sting for a while, but hopefully they can find a way to be proud of themselves.
These teams on the world stage may not realize it, but they shoulder the burden of being an example to millions of young soccer players around the world. The way they play, the laughable dramatics and showmanship, the incredible skill and athleticism, all are being scrutinized and internalized by these young fans.
As heartwarming as Brazil's David Luiz's show of good sportsmanship toward Colombian player James Rodriguez was, I have to wonder why it stood out so much--I guess these types of moments are few and far between, which is unfortunate. But that image will stay with the next generations and that is the real heartwarming part.
Thank you, Netherlands, for finding it in your hearts to play one last game. Next time, be bigger than your egos. Think about who might be watching, who you can inspire with your play, your attitude, regardless of the outcome. Second loser? Only if you think it so.
Get 'em next time Brazil. Your fans will be behind you as long as you stay true to why you play and how you can inspire.
"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there."
Personal Best Sports
The sports world is filled with stories of perseverance, failure and success, personal struggles and public triumph. Each story provides insight into the mental side of sport and activity.