Good Athletes Are Good Actors

The Canadian curling world has been abuzz (there’s a word I’m using for the first time) of late over the expulsion of a player in a provincial play down game (I know the player well). I’ve been inundated by questions re. the appropriateness of the decision by the official to take such an action. There were very few who questioned the inappropriateness of the action by the athlete which caused the situation. But what disturbed me more was the photograph of a teammate apparently appealing to an official (not sure if it was the official who made the decision to act upon the athlete’s actions). In all of this, I feel there are important lessons.

At the time of writing, the exact action that resulted in the suspension of the athlete for the remainder of the game, was somewhat unclear but it was clear that it was not a solitary act that caused the suspension. From reports both heard & read, the athlete used inappropriate language and exhibited inappropriate behaviour, each with a warning from officials. The team played the remainder of the game, which it won, with the remaining three players. The stone kicking was not the “sole” reason the athlete was suspended.

Officials are people like athletes. They have a job to do and do it to the best of their abilities, just like athletes. In our sport, officials are there, not so much to enforce rules, the players can do that themselves. Their primary responsibility is to assist the players in fairly applying the rules. If a rule infraction occurs, and the teams work it out themselves, even if the applicable rule is not applied according to the rule book, play continues. Everyone is satisfied! It’s one of the aspects that sets curling apart!

But even with all I’ve just said, from a coaching perspective, I’d be somewhat miffed that a member of the team I coach, acted in an inappropriate manner. It reflects on teammates and coach. That’s why the wearing apparel is called a “uniform” and why if an athlete is found to have ingested a performance enhancing substance, it affects the entire team. But, the person affected most, even though the athlete may not realize it, is the person who stares back from the mirror because much inappropriate behaviour stems from the fact that the athlete is not accountable. Champions are accountable.

The example I use is John McEnroe. Many in the tennis world regard John as perhaps the most gifted player in their sport but few if any regard him as the best tennis player of all time. Why, because his short-comings were always someone else’s fault (ball boy/girl, umpire, locker room attendant etc.). John very seldom looked inward.

Inappropriate behaviour is frequently rationalized by enablers as “passion”. Don’t be deceived, truly passionate persons don’t behave badly!

The worst part about inappropriate behaviour is what it does to your team and for your opposition. It should be embarrassing to your teammates and coach. And they should support you but do so honestly and the truth is that you need to cease and desist from that behaviour becomes it’s making the team’s task more difficult because it’s providing incentive for your opposition. They don’t need any extra incentive especially when it comes from YOU!

I’ve heard  more than one sports psychologist caution that the muscles your choose to activate are the muscles that inevitably control your actions. In other words, “Look upset and you’ll play upset”. To illustrate this point in clinics and camps, I get the athletes to stand, smile, start bouncing on both feet and wave their arms in the air. When they’ve done that for several seconds, I ask them to continue and feel “sad” at the same. It’s just about impossible! But had I asked them to sit down, close their eyes, cross their arms and relax and feel sad, there would have been no problem.

There is value in “keeping it inside” despite what you might hear from someone who says, “Let it out then move on!” Well, good luck with that!

Athletes who act inappropriately don’t fool anyone. Their reputation is like a 10′ neon sign for all to see. For the athlete, it will make it difficult to find a place on truly elite teams. Better that athlete should take up golf, tennis or some other “individual” sport. Curling is not for them!