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Technology's effect on Football
Perfect referees are a football's fan’s nightmare. By Jacob Stern Well, that didn’t take long.
Less than two minutes into Sunday’s World Cup opening match, between Ecuador and the host country, Qatar, the Ecuadorians won a free kick just beyond half field. Their left back lofted a dangerous ball toward goal, Qatar’s keeper came sprinting off his line to punch the ball away, and one of Ecuador’s center backs leaped to challenge for it with his head.
From there, pandemonium: Several players collided; the ball shot straight up in the air. Caught in no man’s land, the keeper flailed at it and missed. The center back then flung himself into the air and executed a sort of flying roundhouse kick to guide the ball to Enner Valencia, Ecuador’s all-time leading scorer, who was waiting to nod it home.
Gooooaaaal! The Ecuadorian fan section exploded. The players knelt in a circle, raised their heads to the sky, and thanked God. The tournament was truly under way! … except that it wasn’t.
If you’re a football fan, you know what came next, though you might have hoped it wouldn’t come so soon. The goal, it turned out, was actually under review. For what? No one knew yet. All television audiences were shown was the inscrutable face of the referee as he took instructions from his assistants back in the replay room. After the celebrations had ended, and the TV broadcast had replayed the goal from four different angles, and the commentators had analyzed the whole sequence of play, the ref ruled out the apparent goal for offside. No gooooaaaal. This did not make fans happy. Ecuadorians in attendance rubbed their fingers together in the “pay me” gesture, seemingly to suggest that the Qataris had bribed the referee. Online, accusations of corruption flew left and right . Conspiracists had a field day. Some people simply expressed confusion about the call, or disbelief. Others pointed out , sanctimoniously, that the ruling was, in a technical sense, the right decision. But in a broader, more meaningful sense, it was not. If anything, it crystallized everything that is wrong with Video Assistant Referee, soccer’s still relatively new and still highly controversial instant-replay system. The sport has lost sight of the whole point of officiating—and of sports.
Compared with major American sports, soccer was late to the party on video review. The NFL adopted it way back in 1986, the NBA did so in the early 2000s, and the MLB followed suit a few years later. When soccer finally got around to instituting video review, in 2018, it did so in just about the worst, most ham-handed way possible. Decisions took eons to arrive and were not nearly as precise as they pretended to be. Fans had zero transparency about what was happening. Long-standing rules that had seemed simple enough in the pre-VAR days took on quantum-mechanical levels of complexity when subjected to frame-by-frame scrutiny. Every week brought a fresh outrage. The past four years have smoothed out some of those early kinks. Offside calls are now hyper-accurate and semiautomated. And VAR really has done some good: It has eliminated the worst officiating mistakes and ensured that we will not see another hand of God–type abomination , in which a particularly egregious bit of foul play somehow goes unspotted and changes the course of a match. Even so, you’d be hard-pressed to find a soccer fan who thinks VAR is great as is. The Ecuador-Qatar decision is a clear example of why. It was, in the narrowest, most annoying sense, the correct decision. To the naked eye, or even to those watching a television replay, the infraction was virtually invisible amid the chaos. But VAR spotted it.
Congratulations, officials—you got it right. But for what? Sports are, in the end, entertainment, and officiating must always be a balance between accuracy and watchability. If the former were our only and ultimate concern, we would put every potential infraction under the microscope … and the game would be utterly unwatchable.
The plays that officials review—that they ought to review—are the ones where the call, if allowed to stand, would seem genuinely unfair. No one (except maybe the opposing team’s fans) likes to see a legitimate-looking goal disallowed. When Valencia’s header found the net, he and his teammates did not delay their celebration. The Qatari players did not turn to the referee in protest.
The fans did not hesitate to lose their minds. Not even the commentators seemed to have considered the possibility that the goal might not stand, and so television audiences didn’t either. No one was asking for this. Had the game proceeded, no one would have thought twice. VAR is useful only insofar as it makes soccer better for the fans. It can do that only if it can alert them that a check is under way soon enough and return a verdict fast enough that it doesn’t make celebrating goals impossible for fear of a reversal. It should rule out only those goals where, when you look back at the replay, people might reasonably think, Yeah, that’s offside . Some sort of modified tie-goes-to-the-runner rule would help here by eliminating the scourge of the “ toenail offside .” You could even give the attacker a buffer of a foot or two. To its credit, FIFA has introduced new, computerized visualizations to help justify and explain VAR’s delphic verdicts, a strategy that has worked well with tennis’s Hawk-Eye line-calling technology, which fans and players love and accept without complaint.
The visualizations are certainly a step forward. But VAR is no Hawk-Eye. For one thing, Hawk-Eye is near-instantaneous; so far in this tournament, VAR visualizations have arrived as much as 10 minutes after the fact. Even more important, perhaps, onside versus offside is not to soccer what in versus out is to tennis. When a sweet forehand appears to paint the baseline, the first thing you think is, But was it in? That is, unavoidably, what tennis is all about: in or out . Soccer fans do not spend 90 minutes wondering on or off? There are a million other variables to worry about. That is part of the fun and complexity of soccer. And that is how it should be. Less than 15 minutes after having his opener disallowed, Valencia scored again, then went on to double Ecuador’s advantage another 15 minutes later. The match finished 2–0. This almost surely will be just the first of many VAR controversies during the 2022 World Cup. (Anyone see the first half of that Argentina game?) If you thought this one was complicated or ambiguous, just wait until we get a VAR decision that hinges on a referee’s interpretation of “ phase of play .” Sunday’s decision, thankfully, ended up being inconsequential. The next one might not be.
Don't blow Media Ops
The more you experience, the more you learn, the more you want to keep improving.
My entry into local football began back in 1997 and my journey through the ranks afforded me a wide range of opportunities to work with and for some of the best in the business both in terms of team dynamics from coaches to players and personalities in the media and governing bodies.
There have been some unpleasant observations. One of the biggest was the lack of preparation local coaches put into their press conferences and media interviews. Remember these are the individuals who preach preparation,game planning, what's winning about, football is life etc. It made no sense that these same people were at times underprepared for something so important to their overall success, but letting others dictate the content and flow of the interview and the message that would be going out to the world.
It is apparent that coaches continue to squander opportunities to position their programs, improve their professional image, and maximize the experience of the players and teams they work with and develop. And it’s not difficult or time-consuming. It’s simply a matter of making the time to prepare for the media.
We see it everyday on the television and social media. The best coaches I've worked with, I’ve seen often prepare for interviews without even realizing that’s what they’re doing. They mentally prepare a short list of messages they want to convey, and then do so repeatedly throughout an interview, often finding ways to bring the interviewer back to the subjects and points they want to reinforce.
My period with Leo Beenhakker between 2005-2006 taught me a lot not only about his approach but also what I as a press officer needed to do. Following his first set of matches against Guatemala and Costa Rica in the World Cup qualifiers, he began insisting that I bring possibly every bit of information that was out in the Press on our players and the opponents. This was part of the homework for getting ready for interviews or press conferences. Before every press day or media briefing during the training camp in Rotenburg leading up to our matches at the 2006 World Cup and then for each match, he wanted to know what the major networks and publications were saying about our team, our opponents and our matches. He also wanted to know what the opposing coaches said to the press that week about the upcoming games and when necessary, what our players were also saying to the press. It gave him a better sense of understanding how to craft his statements and what to be prepared for.
And I'll say this, if someone of the calibre of Beenhakker who had coached Holland, Real Madrid and Ajax saw the need to do that amount of prep for the media, then why is it difficult for local coaches in the industry to do the same.
One on ones, social media blogs and media briefings are among the most common methods to communicate the message. Media interviews arguably reach the greatest number of casual fans to whom coaches want to communicate and serve as an ideal opportunity to persuade “swing voters” to support their team and program in good times and, more importantly, bad. It’s the opportunity to continually convey an image, both the coach’s and his or her program; what is the program’s culture and philosophy, what is special about these players. This is what builds premier programs and coach's reputations over time. And a coach should not waste these windows.
While it's good to instill confidence in your team by being positive in interviews, coaches sometimes need to avoid making statements simply because it may sound good. Never mis-lead either the media or your team. Avoid using some of these lines too often - "We know what we have to do." Leave that for post-match when based on the result and performance you can instead say, "We prepared well and we knew what we had to do." That sounds lot better than saying in the pre-match that you "know what you have to do" yet the actual performance showed far from it. Stop saying "We have a group of talented players." Every team has talented players. "We are confident of a victory, This is the best group of players we've had in training." Keep that internal. "It was a great experience. It was a learning experience." This is understood and saying it in a post-game interview makes you appear to be short on words. "I believe we have a great chance of winning; going all the way." Let the performance on the park speak to this.
Let your performance show that you were "ready for the challenge and prepared as best as possible." You could not have prepared well and been ready to then be hammered 4-0 with an unflattering performance.
There are certain occasions with the media you can explain in-depth about your program, strategies, overall approach and preparations. These are good for full-length one on one interviews, podcasts, shortfilms and some press briefings. You do not want to be too detailed in pre-game press conferences. The least said the better. While the media will press you to give more juice, always be careful about what the opponent has access to.
Timely One-on-One print interviews provide an opportunity for coaches to go deeper and expand on topics that will better convey their philosophies and program culture, leading to more fan support and interest. With the Secondary Schools League and the Elite League coming up, coaches will be well advised to spend some more time preparing for the media.
We can go on much further on topics like these. Feel free to send me an email for more insight and read more in future columns here or www.pushinglimits.net
The demands of Travel for Sport Teams
by Shaun Fuentes Travel continues to become more demanding on athletes, teams and officials as the world of sport and international travel continues to expand and evolve. Major sports teams have enjoyed tremendous growth in modern times. All teams are now traveling farther on more demanding schedules. Regional cricket and football teams are up and down more than in past years with the different regional series and Concacaf Nations League. Transportation requirements have become tremendous, and each management team needs to be aware of the various means and quality of airline and ground transportation service. In some of the larger nations and states, competition among airlines for sports team bookings is intense, and service is top quality due to the competition. Package offerings are now available as several of the large airlines have branched into the hotel business which is something airlines in the Caribbean have not exactly moved into. Traveling with a team, a football team in particular presents specific members of staff with unique challenges of ensuring the team performs optimally on match day and has a build up with as little obstacles as possible. These include the team managers, physicians, physiotherapists and media officer who has the responsibility of ensuring communication within the team and for the public is timely, precise and efficient. Being organised is crucial and having a clear understanding of what is needed by the traveling party has to be the starting point. The coronavirus has thrown up new challenges which is why it’s important to have healthy and cordial relationships with various parties from hotels, the host organisations, government and healthy agencies both at home and destination as well as travel agents and airlines. Communication becomes key here. When standard travel issues pop up, you’re not left stranded with last minute flight or hotel changes or having to go on your knees for visas or travel passes. The team doctor has the enormous task of ensuring they anticipate avoid or overcome all the possible obstacles that can adversely affect the preparation and performance. This requires meticulous planning and execution with a lot of proactiveness. Preparing for an away match has always been the bigger of the challenges but now even matches at home can be tedious due to the amount of overseas players coming from various destinations. The health risk profile of the country being traveled to or from, the availability of nearby medical institutions, availability of flights as well as alternative options in the air, climatic conditions, the state of the hotel and training camp proximity between venues; level and mode of transportation, and security matters are just those at the top of the list. Being equipped with all the relevant information at least 7-10 days before a trip is ideal but sometimes information can still be challenging to confirm up to a day before departure. Footballers have always struggled with long flights in cramp positions and the smaller federations or clubs are not always able to afford the business class or extra leg space seating.Some also have to take the option of one or two connecting flights to get to their final destinations which can sometimes see travel time spanning anywhere from 7-14 hours for what could be a three hour journey, It was only during the final stages of the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign that the T&T European-based players, perhaps with more bargaining power due to winning results, were able to successfully demand business class travel for flight upwards of 6 hours. During the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign for qualifying and warm-up matches, traveling through Panama City for connections became such a norm, that the T&T FA had developed a relationship with one of the restaurants in the airport in order to accommodate the entire team for meals in a reserved space whenever the travel included a lengthy lay over. The manager also has to ensure that travel documents and passports are in order. Expiry dates and visas continue to be a challenge for teams today. Most times a final selection is not confirmed up to 5 days before scheduled departure. Then we come to the luggage aspect. Football and cricket teams travel with a huge amount of gear and equipment, not to mention personal baggages of the traveling party. Different airlines offer varying weight and baggage fee options which means teams always have to have contingency funds on hand at all times. Laundry service around the team hotel is also necessary as sometimes the cost for laundry at the hotel can be too much for the budget. Second option training pitches is always good to have. Not all teams are able to have advance party of one or two persons traveling which would obviously make arrivals that bit smoother. According to Sello Motaung. FIFA medical officer and honorary part-time university lecturer, some general topics that may serve well when being covered prior to travel include hygiene principles, counteracting jet lag effects, nutrition and hydration strategy and travel plans and destination details which most times is important for athletes psychological preparedness and peace of mind. Responsible behaviour is also important for destinations. This entails safety issues, professional behaviour, following protocols, understanding and respecting cultures and laws, and yes, protection against sexually transmitted disease and criminal activity. Of course having the knowledge is one thing but the key is execution and this involves having a cooperative staff willing to go the extra mile backed up by a fair amount of resources and support. So yes it's nice to say you get to experience different cultures and destinations, you've been here and there, your favourite food is from a place some may not travel to in their life-time. But the rigours of traveling in sport particularly if you are from the Caribbean and have to constantly move outside of the region can take its toll. But hey! The journey is never meant to be easy right.
Controlling the self-controllables.
by Shaun Fuentes Athletes and sports players who exert too much ‘self-control’ before and during competing risk hindering their sporting performance, a new study suggests.
Sports scientists at Nottingham Trent University have found that the more self-control field-hockey players were required to exert the worse their performance became, with their dribbling, passing and shooting skills all affected. The research is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
Self-control refers to athletes’ attempts to control their behaviours, emotions and thoughts in order to pursue their goals and relates to resisting overriding impulses or temptations.
It is often linked to positive outcomes in sport and exercise performance and could include anything which might require them to fight their natural urges.This could be exercising control over diet before competing, resisting the temptation to watch TV in order to train instead, or having to put on a different persona to undertake media interviews.
Athletes are constantly confronted with self-control demands, but previous research has delivered sound empirical evidence that athletes are not always capable of dealing with these demands. According to the strength model of self-control, individuals have a limited amount of self-control strength, which can become temporarily depleted following self-control demands (e.g., attention regulation). When self-control strength is depleted, that is, in a state of ego depletion, athletes are less persistent during strenuous physical exercise, are less likely to follow their exercise regimens, and tend to perform worse under pressure.
"Let your body go with the flow. You know you can do it. All you need is your own imagination. So use it; that's what it's for. Go inside for your finest inspiration. Your dreams will open the door." —Madonna in Vogue.
Overthinking is every athlete's nemesis. In sports, self-control comes into play when an athlete makes cerebral attempts to control his or her thoughts, emotions, and behaviors while pursuing a goal that may involve resisting temptations or overriding impulses. In small doses, self-control plays a role in sticking with a training regimen and eating a healthy diet, but too much self-control prevents me from letting go, which is key to creating flow.
The recent study by sport and exercise scientists from Nottingham Trent University reports that athletes who exert too much self-control before and during sports competitions tend to perform skilled movements with less fluidity. Conversely, not exercising too much self-control seems to up their game.
Self-control is just like a muscle. If we do not flex it, then the muscle will weaken. At first, our athletes may not know what to do with choice. But we can guide them by offering a few specific choices: “Would you rather hit off the machine or have someone bowl to you?” And to our young athletes, something as simple as “What color practice jersey do you want to wear tomorrow?” offers autonomy.
We want our athletes to take control of their careers. One important way to cultivate that control is through self-controlled learning. Granting our athletes autonomy over aspects of their learning environment enhances motivation and improves information processing regarding learning. We must allow them to “self-control the self-controllables.”
Of course anyone who has played or been involved competitive sports knows the feeling of being so frustrated with an aspect of the game or decisions made by officials , that they no longer act as themselves, and rather act on frustration and anger. Whether it comes from a ref blowing an obvious call or an opposing player performing a blatant foul on you or one of your teammates, a normally rational and unaggressive player can lose their self-control quickly. A study in 2014 by Englert and Bertrams looked at self–control depletion, focusing their study on the effects that self-control depletion has in sports. Being able to have self-control is a very important part of most competitive sports.
Understanding the effects of self-control depletion in sports may just give you the competitive edge.According to the cognitive psychology blog on the Colby community website, self-control can be defined as the process of voluntarily controlling an impulse or habitual action, such as choosing to eat an apple instead of a piece of cake when you are on a diet. Much like how attention is a limited resource, self-control is also limited in its capacity. In sports, attention is spread to many different things, and since it is a limited resource, it is difficult to pay attention to self-control while attending to so many other distractions.
Attention has often been described as a “spotlight”, and you must move the spotlight around to focus your attention on different things. In sports, that spotlight is constantly moving around, trying to focus on the most important aspect of the game. Since you are trying to focus on so many different things, you are spending much less time focusing on your self-control, and allowing it to get out of hand when presented with situations requiring utmost self-control.
Dealing with the Generation Z Athlete
"The game is the game but the method of instruction has changed tremendously. We are dealing with a new player. A player called Generation Z that is very saavy in terms of international technology,’” said local football coach and now head coach of Guyana Jamaal Shabaaz when he spoke about the recently launched TTFA A Licence Coaching Course.
"Our communications skills have got to improve... not just what we know and what we want to impart but trying to understand how does this generation of young people learn. I think this is critical in us educating ourselves going forward. This is what a course like this TTFA A License course has done for us,” Shabazz added
Today’s young athletes belong to a group known as Generation Z (a.k.a., Gen Z), or the Post-Millennial or iGeneration (Twenge, 2017). This group was born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, and is also the demographic cohort following the Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. Generation Z youth, in general, have grown up in a completely digital environment. They were born after the advent of the Internet, growing up with smartphones, laptop computers, and iPads in their homes and schools, enabling them to possess superb technological skills. Athletes are now exposed to the best of digital technology from analytics to real time playback video apps.
Unlike previous generations, Gen Z goes through intellectual stages too quickly. They’ve always had information within reach. They’re young, in their twenties, and some have seen more football from different periods than a boomer could have seen in their entire life and all thanks to Youtube and other streaming platforms. In the end, it resumes to hours of video and Gen Z has an infinite offer which is available to them. The possibility of understanding a game, by breaking it down and understanding the player’s performance, has been within reach since they were introduced into the sports discipline.
They have tools at their disposal that not even the most experienced journalists in the past could have enjoyed. And certainly players from previous generations didn’t have such speedy access. Most players from the 70s, 80s and even 90s had to wait several weeks or even month before they could access VHS or Beta Max copies of their matches or highlights.
Critics also notice Generation Z’s shorter attention spans, need for frequent (positive) feedback, lack of independence, and increased screen time. However, Twenge (2017) also discovered that Generation Z youth are growing up more slowly, avoiding adult responsibilities such as moving out of their parents’ houses and becoming financially independent. They are also the most protected and safest generation, meaning they spend less time in direct contact with friends and loved ones, leading to the highest generational marks of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
During a recent study, stakeholders, eleven from the United States Tennis Association identified strengths of Generation Z athletes as being highly motivated and educated, having strong technology skills, desiring to know the ‘why,’ and being visual learners. The participants also cited challenges of working with this cohort of athletes, which included short attention spans, poor in-person communication skills, lack of independence, entitlement and ungratefulness, difficulties dealing with adversity, preoccupation with social media and smartphones, and complications working with their support networks (e.g., parents or other coaches).
There are a few methods identified in helping to deal with the Gen Z athlete. Explain the 'Why.' With technology and information at their fingertips, Generation Z athletes expect adults to have done their homework. Providing a quick rationale for training methods and practice plans can improve motivation and effort of young people. It also reduces the inevitable ‘why’ questions from both athletes and parents.
Be Direct. With shorter attention spans of Generation Z athletes, coaches and support staff can adapt by making their messages more direct at the start and end of training sessions and during pre-game or half-time speeches.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity. Today’s young athletes (and their parents) are more in tune with strength and conditioning techniques as well as injury prevention. Coaches and support staff can assist by being aware of overtraining and burnout symptoms and using periodization principles when scheduling training and competitions.
Communicate Effectively. While face-to-face communication is not a strength of Generation Z athletes, coaches and support staff can challenge young athletes by asking open-ended questions, using text messaging only for logistical communication, practicing face-to-face conversations in team meetings or training, and switching up the methods of communication (i.e., videos, articles, and demonstrations) to aid messaging.
The world of sport is not in crisis. But it needs to adapt if it wants to continue to attract more and more players and fans, to adapt to new social issues and to win over Generation Z.
We are seeing today that sports clubs no longer attract Gen Z. Today, young people are looking for more sociable practices, more focused on enjoyment, on new, more flexible formats. "Old style" sport is finished, with training on Wednesday evening and a match on Sunday. Generation Z wants to experiment, to try out different sports and to share everything with their friends.
Changes in consuming and practices will not happen overnight, but those involved in the world of sport should be anticipating the movement now. The biggest generation in history is also a big opportunity for everyone involved in sport. Next week we'll take a look at the Generation Z of Fans.
Kicking Mediocrity Out
By Shaun Fuentes We live in a world where professionals, the people who show up and do the work, they punch the clock, cut through the fluff, and do the damn thing. Repetition after repetition, day in and day out, becoming more proficient, and efficient every day, by doing. Proper sport athletes, businessmen, musicians, chefs, artists, medical practitioners among others relentlessly, religiously hone their craft, greasing their own groove, making automatic the fundamentals of their art, so that when they reach for a performance, they stand upon a firm foundation built by hours of practice. We love those who all show up, do their homework, and understand the value of doing something well. Frequent, thoughtful practice in pursuit of mastery makes sense. Respect for history and tradition, and the great practitioners who came before us, these go hand in glove with most worthy undertakings. Question. How many are there to love around us right now? “Good enough” cheapens the people who create it and the leaders who allow it." Seen that before? Here’s another one. “Mediocrity is a shameful pollutant that belittles by underestimating potential.” It is said that seven reasons of mediocrity are Lousy leaders; Confusion regarding strengths on the team;Fear of failure.;Low expectations;Lack of focus;Insecure team members and Over-commitment.Take out your phone and type or write on a page for me which of these you aren't experiencing or witnessing on a basis that is too regular for our liking. Don’t get me wrong. I love a celebration and I support people being praised or feted for proper achievements. And yes I know it’s not everyday we get to be winners. BUT! In today's society, everything is celebrated. Gone are the days where you have to be the best to win, or even really have to be exceptional to make the team. With participation trophies, medals and headlines being handed out to every athlete who steps on the field, and certificates being passed out like fruit cake around Christmas, our people are being left with nothing to strive for. Why try to achieve greatness when everyone tells you that you already are or that you are always making history. Time to top seeing excuses in everything. If you didn't get into a final, didn’t place among the top three or even top five, it is not because you are a minority, or the conditions weren’t right and certainly not because of Covid anymore. Sure, prejudice is out there. But, maybe you didn't get it because you weren't good enough or you didn’t prepare enough. And let’s also stop using the reason of "small island or small country." By allowing young people to see everything as a direct insult, we are not holding them accountable. You need failure in order to be successful. You need failure in order to be humble. Making mistakes and messing up is a part of being human, and sometimes it is the best part. Losing ever so often won't scar you for life; it will teach you to appreciate the things that you work your socks off for. A lot of times we need to accept we’ve failed and we need to let people know they have not succeeded. When did it become okay to settle? Someone told me since the inception of Social Media. It is now the biggest comfort zone on the planet. As a self-confessed optimist and committed servant, I’m honestly afraid of failure. I too also have room for better. My biggest fear is living a life that is ‘mediocre’ but also being among others who accept it too easily.But by whose standards are we measuring our failures? Society at large? The opinion of our friends? Our family? We need to take a good look at this and understand why accepting mediocrity is becoming more popular. Failures, mistakes and the ‘ugly’ parts of us are what give us our character. They’re what make us resilient and strong. It is part of the process of overcoming mediocrity. Because if we understand it then we would get to a point where we don’t want to keep feeling it. Okay so maybe I came up in an era where there were such high levels of expectation and accountability on performance was a thing. No one wanted to know that becoming the smallest country to qualify for a World Cup in 2006 was beyond us because we didn't think we were good enough. We just had to get it done. And okay, maybe resources were more readily available and times have changed. But when one looks around and see others succeeding in so many other types of sport and with the same challenging conditions and stiff challenges, then you have to sit back and say how come? They say "Exceptional is the result of reaching beyond current performance." Five questions to remarkable. What memory can you create? What will make you proud when this is over? What’s important about this? How can you improve your last performance? How can you honor hard work that produces remarkable results? Time to confront mediocrity, courageously. “We can be better.” All of us. Adopt a “do your best now” and a “do better tomorrow” approach. #KickMediocrityOut
Pushing Limits with Aurtis Whitley
Former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Aurtis Whitley, a member of this country’s 2006 World Cup squad, is turning his attention toward passing on his experience to young footballers in Oropune Gardens where he resides. Whitley, a former national captain, is conducting weekly coaching sessions with members of the Oropune Police Youth Club and has also teammed up with former national teammate Hayden Tinto to offer coaching clinics to aspiring players. Whitley recently received support from Shaun Fuentes, through his company Pushing Limits which provided a supply of footballs, training gear and uniforms for the current project. Through the affiliation with Pushing Limits, of which Fuentes is managing director, Whitley will receive a monthly provision of supplies for the coaching sessions as well as medical screenings and media training for the youngers for a six-month period in the first instance. Whitley, a former San Juan Jabloteh standout, said he felt the time was right to pass on whatever he could to the youngsters. “This is something I have been working on for some time. Of course my playing days were some of the best times in my life, especially playing in the World Cup in Germany. But this is a different calling and I just knew it to myself that I have to give back something to the youths in the community. This is just a small start but I will be looking to keep going,” Whitley said. “I reached out to Shaun who I have known throughout my career on the national team going back to the year 2000 and he did not hesitate to assist. We are doing this for the youths and I ma thankful to God and my family to be able to contribute in this way,” he said. Fuentes added that he was encouraged by the initiative and saw it as a way to make a contribution to youth development while also showing support for Whitley. Aurtis Whitley versus England at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany “Aurtis and I had some discussion earlier this year and he reached out for some support in whatever way possible towards his involvement with the youngsters in the Oropune area. We’ve had a professional relationship at the national team level dating back to 2000 and of course the 2006 World Cup of which Aurtis was an integral part. But this collaboration is different and it brings a warm feeling to see athletes such as Aurtis making an effort to give back in a productive and meaningful way. I had no hesitation towards it and decided to partner and offer support through my group Pushing Limits where we’ll be aiming to provide whatever assistance possible to Aurtis and the youngsters,” Fuentes said. “I believe strongly in seeing our local sporting heroes interacting and passing on their wisdom and knowledge to aspiring athletes and members of our society and local communities." Fuentes, through Pushing Limits has also provided support to the Dunstan Williams Soccer Academy by way of a workshop and presentation on “Preparing Athletes to handle the Media” ahead of the Academy’s upcoming appearance at the Dallas Cup 2022. Among the topics were How to present yourself before the media; Body language; Social Media training, Facing the Camera and Interview Sessions among others. The session took place last week at the Presentation College, San Fernando auditorium with players from Presentation College, St Benedict’s College, Naparima College and Pleasantville Secondary in attendance. He’s also offered support and held similar sessions with Joel Bailey’s Gold Generation Next Coaching School in San Fernando, Stern John’s Academy, the Grenada FA as well as offered support to the Belize FA for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Fuentes has undergone training from world renowned New York-based Media trainer TJ Walker as well as FIFA experts in media management and relations during his time as a FIFA Media Officer dating back to 2007 which included appointments at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and other youth World Cups in Nigeria and Turkey.
Taking the lumps along the way to success
by Shaun Fuentes A big talking point and one which continues in light of the current Olympic Games is how success is defined and measured by different countries on the international stage. While it is not so clear how this is achieved, what is certain is that defining success depends on the purpose wherefore it is used and on the priorities of individual success. Surely we as a nation must be asking ourselves this. Exactly what are our priorities when it comes to success whether it be in track and field, football, cricket, swimming or other sports. The FIFA World Cup and the Olympics are the most high profile sporting events on the international sporting calendar. And it is reasonable to conclude the the latter has become increasingly competitive and medals are now relatively harder to win, this currently being a consoling factor for us.
The demand for success is increasing with more countries participating and winning more medals while many are investing more to not only maintain their success but to give themselves a better chance vying for a medal or to perhaps qualify for a World Cup and then advance to the knockout phase. Of course one must take into consideration a number of socio-economic and political variables that play an important part in determining each country’s success. While it can be argued that the Olympic Games are still dominated by a small number of capitalist core and (formerly) socialist countries, it is hardly surprising that larger and wealthier countries tend to win the lion's share of medals. Yet there are exceptions where smaller countries or those less expected to win are beginning to take their places on the podiums. More research continues to take place as to exactly how these smaller nations are beginning to exceed on the world stage against the odds some may say. It turns out that for many athletes attempting to maximize their athletic abilities, learning sport skills is the easier task compared to developing the focus, motivation and resiliency needed to succeed. In other words, developing daily motivation or implementing stress coping skills to help deal with adversity, frustration or lack of proper preparation is perhaps harder than learning how to throw a javelin. More than ever before, mental toughness is perhaps the most important set of skills an athlete can develop in order to maximize potential. Let’s look at the lead up to the Olympics for Indian Javelin gold medallist Neeraj Chopra. His coach Uwe Hohn said the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Athletics Federation of India (AFI) — “did not do enough” to prepare the athlete and his countrymen for the games. He said Chopra’s preparations were unplanned and his diet was not fit for the competition with him even struggling to get dietary supplements Hohn said: “When I came here I thought I could change something but it’s probably too difficult with these people at SAI or AFI. I don’t know if it’s lack of knowledge or ignorance. Beside camps or competitions even when we ask via our nutritionist for supplements for our athletes we don’t get the right stuff. Not even for TOPS athletes. If we get something we are very happy.” Surely that would throw any athlete off but in this case it seemed to have forced Chopra to prove his doubters or non-believers wrong. Successful athletes often have a passion and purpose for what they do — they are focused and determined to get better every day, and have specific goals they actively pursue. It is passion and purpose (intrinsic motivation) that helps us overcome life obstacles, focus on our goals, and outwork the competition. When you love what you do, what looks like work to others is simply an enjoyable activity to you. This is why passionate athletes are often the first ones to practice, and the last ones to leave. But guess what. With all the personal drive and ambitions, it’s that extra push that gets them there ahead of the pack. And that push comes from those responsible for providing that additional support. That in turn makes the mental challenges easier to overcome. To be clear – having passion and purpose does not imply that athletes will love every moment of training, but instead suggests that they have the heart and motivation to push through the tough times. And that comes along with also knowing they are supported no matter what. And backed not just vocally or via social media content but by tangible ways as well. Without great motivation which includes support, the typical response is to give in to the pressure and stress, and/or begin to point fingers away from oneself and onto just about anything else.When athletes have passion, purpose and yes, right backing, they quickly move through tough times and stay hungry for the next day. Their resiliency is seemingly hard-wired into their DNA and they understand and accept that they will take their lumps along their way to greatness. Just ask Andre De Grasse. “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ― Maya Angelou
Stamping out the crab mentality
by Shaun Fuentes Crabs in a bucket is referred to as the crab mentality. We know it more as “Crabs in a barrel”. It is best described by the phrase, “If I can’t make it, neither can you”. Working together as a team, the crabs could easily escape from the bucket. Instead, the crabs grab one another and pull the other one down. When you pull down others, you also keep yourself down on the bottom of the ladder.
One of the major pluses or advantages of international travel or being able to gain experience overseas is getting to observe or engage in different cultures and styles of business, sport or any form of life. During a recent outing abroad I came across a book entitled Crabology: How to Recognize and Overcome the Crab Mentality in Yourself and Others. It tells you about humanity and our interactions with others. It brings to light the attitudes that hinder our individual and collective progress. It offers insight into how to overcome the negative forces that hinder our progress.
It further states:Crabology: the study of the mental attitude, language and actions of individuals within a culture who refuse to support others in their efforts to better themselves, their community, and/or their organization(s)
While offering advice to others, it is suggested that there are two options that they would experience while climbing the ladder. The first choice was to help people all along the way, and the other choice was not help others, thereby getting caught up in “the crab bucket.” The crab mentality theory broadly associates with being shortsighted, non-constructive thinking, rather than a unified, team-approach and long-term constructive mentality.
Though we much prefer not to discuss the topic, the fact is it is something that we face daily. And it’s not just in Trinidad and Tobago or the Caribbean but across different societies. And while we may prefer to turn a blind eye to it, it is also present in the sporting sector and obvious to many.
The Filipino-American adoptive mother of Chess Grandmaster Wesley So, Lotus Key indicated that the different culture backgrounds between her and So is what sets them apart.
“I am more American. I am naturally fearless and confident,” Lotus said last December “I always try to be the best. [Wesley] is more Filipino. “Growing up in the Philippines, there is a very deep crab mentality that holds people back, like no one should ever be better than his friends. No one should aim high. Exact opposite of mentality in the States.”
It is a lot easier to climb up and out of the bucket or move the football down the field when all of your teammates are working together towards the same goal.
Crab mentality is common not just in the workplace, but in our everyday lives. There is always someone who treats us as competition and would not like to see us grow in our craft. But inspite of that, we all should be motivated to improve our performance in the sport arena or the workplace. We should try our best to improve ourselves professionally, to move up. While there are factors that hinder us from performing well, including lack of growth, lack of benefits, low compensation, cultural differences, and poor working environment, it is widely believed and proven that it is someone’s mindset that hinders progress.
Many believe there is no quick solution to this problem. There is the traditional approach where senior staff come first - they have more experiences and knowledge about the work. Traditional top-down management styles reinforce this fact in the way decisions are made. However, it is also felt that if a bottom-up management style is adopted, it can challenge the younger staff to share and collaborate, resulting in higher employee involvement and increased job satisfaction. Because employees are treated as partners who are involved in decision making, their motivation and commitment is increased, ensuring their contribution to the organization’s well-being.
Barry Shannon, who served as head of HR at StatSports summed it up ideally for me. "First look at your culture. Ask yourself if you promote the right behaviours, attitudes and ethics? Do you see your company as high performing, and have you ensured that this is ingrained in your staff?" he stated.
You might have seen it on a sports team, with some players reluctant to pass the ball to a player who could outshine them, get more praise or perhaps move on to a bigger team. You might see diligent trainers who want to push themselves onward be ridiculed or unable to train constructively because others discourage their efforts or actively disrupt the session by messing around.We all sit in buckets of some variety.
Whatever the situation, the process of actively holding people back from achieving more, simply to reinforce the low bar status quo can be incredibly toxic and destructive. It can also be very difficult to overcome. For the sports coach, or work manager, the first and most important tool to counter this is to be aware of the phenomena in the first place and be able to spot it happening. That way you can then take steps to address the problem.
When it comes to looking at our culture, as advised by Shannon, we need to look at whether we recruit people with positive traits that contribute to that type of culture; and when you bring them onboard, reinforce this from day one and throughout their career: socialising the principles accordingly.
Do we put responsibility on staff to act the right way? Do we challenge them if they are not. Ask if your coaches, directors, managers and team leaders all walk the walk accordingly. If not, then it needs to be addressed before it's too late. It needs to be driven from the top. Do staff feel able to call colleagues out for poor behaviour (with manners, obviously)? If they don't, figure out why not and empower them to do so.
"Celebrate wins and successes as a team. While there may be a figurehead, or one person who contributed most, make sure the people who played a supporting role are also recognised. That way you start to create a ‘one wins, everybody wins' mentality, where everyone in the team can feel they have been able to contribute positively to success," Shannon states.
Unless we strive for better, we will never advance, grow and succeed. Crabs don't know that. We should.
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." – Booker T. Washington
Dreams on hold for student athletes
by Shaun Fuentes
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty all across College Sports in North America and other parts of the world heading into next season which is impacting hundreds of thousands of student athletes including several from Trinidad and Tobago. Over decades, footballers as well as track and field athletes have benefitted from scholarships to attend institutions in the US.
Currently, the NCAA Division 1 Council has suspended in-person recruiting through January 1 2021. Both college coaches and potential recruits are adjusting to this unprecedented situation, and more changes will still emerge. And with no Secondary Schools Football League taking place here in 2020 it means hundreds of young footballers are not only missing out on an opportunity to display their skill but are potentially seeing their chances of attending overseas College decrease by the day.
Over in Africa the same challenges are being faced. In June Winnie Kosgei, a Kenyan marathon runner, helped to pioneer a new form of virtual race that allows athletes to compete against each other without having to be physically in the same area. This is one example of how professional athletes have adapted their careers to the new world of COVID-19. But inn Kenya and across East Africa, quite a few universities and colleges which offer sports scholarships to needy students with unique sport abilities have been struggling. The situation means that poorer students – with potential and talent – are effectively being marginalised in the current situation.
Sport has had to take a back seat, largely due to the fact that it involves contact among players, and the participation of large numbers of spectators and fans. For prospective students looking to sports scholarships to earn an education, the doors now seem firmly closed until further notice.
“Not everyone can be blessed enough to come from an abled background,” said Michael Oluoch, “and the funny thing about life is that most of the best talents and abilities usually come from people from poor backgrounds … God never forgot them, and nor should we,” said Oluoch, a basketball coach and scout in Kenya.
As a scout, Oluoch goes out to schools and neighbourhoods to look for talent or invites players to showcase their abilities. Under present conditions, this process is no longer possible.
“There are some students I had identified from two high schools and was hoping to bring them in for our scholarship programme, but now I have no choice but to wait till things go back to normal,” he said.
There are students including some from T&T such as footballer Kareem Riley who are already on sports scholarships. Some have chosen to defer their studies since schools were finding it a challenge to cater for them with no sports activities taking place. Some schools however are trying to find ways to help them out through various avenues such as well-wishers and a kitty for the needy.
Victor Boiyo, dean of students at The African Nazarene University in Kenya said it is difficult for them to take in and cater for new scholarship students even as online learning goes on. “No strategy had been put in place to handle the situation that we are in today, and as an institution, we are working to find ways of helping out those that we can [those already on scholarships].”
“They are a unique group of students” that the government should think about as they work on ways of getting learning back on track," he said.
Everything from roster selection and scholarship limits to operating budgets — has had to be re-thought and restructured a t every college and university as a result of the pandemic. The same applies to local secondary schools. Athletes, particularly footballers are best advised to ensure their updated highlights reel is posted on every social media platform possible.
A great deal of recruiting, even in the best of times, is now largely digital. Coaches and players will have to stay in touch with recruiters through email, text messaging and routine conference call. While the games have been on a break, it is certainly no time to rest as athletes must now continue to look after their physical shapes, keep on honing their skills and train in new and innovative ways. Dreams are on hold but they haven't been dashed.
The Power of Common Purpose
by Shaun Fuentes
“Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020,” Marcus Rashford tweeted upon the news that his campaign had borne fruit. A campaign that prompted a Government U-turn that will now allow parents to receive vouchers for 1.3 million kids in England over the summer and with more to come. This was just another exceptional example of the influence, power and respect that high-profile sportspeople in general whether it be football, cricket or athletic stars can have on impacting massive change in our world by making proper use of their platforms to reach the masses. How much are we seeing this in our region or our country? If it takes you more than thirty seconds to respond positively then it’s not happening enough or even at all. The UK Guardian stated: “In forcing the prime minister into a hasty spin of the heels, Rashford has delivered a timely reminder that football’s influence and cultural currency stretch well beyond its own borders. And by reaching beyond those borders in an urgent and worthwhile cause, he has demonstrated the power of common resolve and common purpose, at a time when – as he himself put it – society “appears to be more divided than ever”. Is it that our sporting and cultural stalwarts and heroes aren’t being seen in the kind of light by our leaders to have the sort of impact similar to Rashford’s? “The genius of Rashford’s campaign was its simplicity. It was textbook in its strategy, tactics and execution. It starts with a clear positioning based on his personal experience: no one can question his motive or accuse him of jumping on a bandwagon.” Like Rashford, former Grenadian international Jason Roberts, now director of development at CONCACAF, also received an MBE for his charitable work in Grenada. Roberts was awarded the honour by the Queen after he set up a charitable foundation to introduce children in Grenada, the homeland of his father, and the UK to education through sport and help build confidence. He took the decision to play for Grenada, rather than be selected for England, in a bid to help Grenada's youth. Jason Roberts (Image courtesy The Times)
He said: “For me, playing for Grenada was more than football - it was the opportunity to go there and tackle issues like getting kids into education and mainstream society.” Our society is yearning for more like these men who can emerge as one of the unlikely, unifying heroes of the pandemic. As Rashford himself said: "It's becoming more normal that people speak out on topics that they believe in and I think it's just positive for the future." Perhaps we have persons in our part of the world who maybe need to speak up some more for it to really reach those who are in decision making positions. Over time the off-field contributions of sporting athletes, such as by contributing to charities or virtuous social causes, are rarely the subject of major media discussion. But there is most times much more public interest should an athlete present a dissenting perspective in respect of a sociopolitical issue via sport. Negative refrains typically include: athletes should “stick to sport”; that they are “using sport” to advance a political agenda; and (like other celebrities) they are not credible advocates because they live in an elitist “bubble”. But times seem to be changing. Certainly How, why and when influential athletes take a stand on sociopolitical issues is a question of timing, context, purpose and strategy.
There can of course be substantial public backlash as was the case when NLF star Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem because of what he sees as systemic racism in American society When NFL ratings fell this season, some suggested that Kaepernick’s politicising of the game had prompted disaffection.
Of course we must also respect individual's honesty when not wanting to get involved because of a lack of knowledge on an issue. Pressuring an ‘influencer’ may not be an option as it would be better for them to comment or expose an issue on their terms and not the public's own. Meantime, I am currently researching instances where our local sporting heroes were seriously considered by our leaders when it came to solid decisions that impacted our citizens. This does not include their individual charitable work. Send me an email with anything you've come up with at email@example.com.
From One phase to the next
by Shaun Fuentes Gary Griffith (left) and Jesse Williams with Coleraine FC player James McLaughlin
The aim at every stage in the athletic career of an individual should be to focus on the development of the whole person than just the athletic person. This certainly becomes ever more important for the future of these folks, not just sportspeople, where they enter a different stage of their career or a different category. The only way to ensure that is by commitment to the holistic development of our athletes right from the outset and throughout their athletic careers.
I had a conversation with former Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Carlos Edwards a couple days ago on a similar topic. This is a man who played for Trinidad and Tobago at the FIFA World Cup in 2006 but one of very few from this country to play in the English Premiership.
Edwards is now a player with Bury Town FC in England but also involved in the management side. He welcomed two aspiring professional players from this country at Bury last week in Gary Griffith III and Jesse Williams. Both players have registered with Coleraine FC in the Northern Ireland Premier League and are currently trying to get their footing on solid ground on the European stage. Neither have ever represented the country at the senior level and had been in largely unfamiliar territory over the past month. So you could imagine what it might have been like for both of them being able to train alongside the former T&T World Cup veteran during their stint at Bury.
“It’s been a once in a lifetime experience for us so far. The lads at Coleraine have been exceptional and we already feel like part of the family,” said Griffith III.
“We have put our best foot forward and I believe that trusting in God and the whole process. This is also a way of showing people that persistence, hard work and belief pays off. At the end of the day we are all striving to improve our craft and be able to then represent our country in the best way possible,” he said
“With this journey it's been quite difficult at times being retested (for Covid) on several occasions which sometimes threw us off. But it’s football we came to play and this is what we signed up for so we’ve come out here and given it our best,” Williams pointed out.
“It’s been easier to acclimatize being in the presence of each other and of course seeing a familiar face. We all share the same goals and coming into a new family at Coleraine FC has made the process a little easier. But we are in a new environment and we are learning everyday,’ Williams stated. “But the main thing is putting your faith in God and knowing that everyday day you wake up means you have a chance of succeeding.”
Carlos Edwards, the former Trinidad and Tobago international
Former stars such as Edwards demonstrating that their inputs can help others who are in search of opportunities to excel or at least continue their development is definitely something we as a nation should feel good about as it relates to our future generations
Edwards understands that success doesn’t come overnight. It takes time and commitment to build the skills necessary to perform on the big stage and for athletes like him, it is never just a job. It is a challenge and an opportunity to get better every day. This is what he’s tried to pass on to the young duo over the couple days he shared with them
“So far the reports have been good on both of them. Obviously they are young and there is lot for them to take on board out here. They both gave a decent account of themselves when they lined up for Ipswich Town in a game against Bury and I’m actually quite surprised to see how well they have adapted to the conditions here,” said Edwards.
“But the main thing for me was being able to be involved in a warm-up with them before one of our games and even though we didn’t play the game together I was able to interact with them and touch on a few things. At this stage of my life and career these are important moments. It allows me to work closer with young persons like Gary and Jesse and try to put them on the right path. When you are out here in this environment every fifteen minutes or few sessions together goes a long way.
“What I tried to make clear to them is that they both have to be their own selves. Don’t try to be like each other or like another player in the team. They must express themselves and their own style in training and in the actual game. It’s what persons like myself and Stern (John) and even Dwight (Yorke) did when we were over here from the early days. " All three of us ended up together at Sunderland and it was the same thing,” Edwards added. He spoke of a current arrangement he and other past players are currently engaged in to offer more opportunitues for young T&T players.
There are no guarantees in this arena. Inspite of everything happening at the moment it's may not be all doom and gloom in our football circles. From one phase to the next we can hopefully keep pushing!