Not long ago, I happened upon a link to a story written by Brodie Merrill for the Philadelphia online news page www.philly.com. Naturally I was interested because it was a lacrosse story and even more because I wondered about how this type of media was “scooped” for a Philly marketplace I worked in a decade ago. What I found out was that the story was actually part of a re-occurring blog by Brodie for the online newspaper. The other thing I learned was that Mr. Merrill can spin a really good tale. I’ve since read all of Merrill’s blogs and find them exceptional and suggest you seek all of them out yourselves. One article in particular “Don’t let sports define who you are” is something I believe in at my core from my experiences in lacrosse, other sports and life.
In this piece I gravitated to the main message I took in.
I’ll quote Merrill: “Coach Dave Urick always reminded us that lacrosse at Georgetown University was important, but it wasn’t everything. The key was to strive for balance and to use lacrosse to help you become the person that you can be.”
I found that this blog was on the mark with sport and especially amateur sports. The weight and class placed on how well a player does his trade in my history of being involved in sport has always been skewed. In non-paying athletics, or should I say serious amateur sports, I think that people become wrapped up in their world and place so much importance on it as a lifestyle that they relinquish too much of themselves and their identity to their sport. This usually amounts to the best players in these non-professional sports reaching demi-god status. Placing so much importance on their sporting skills and abilities to be one of the best at what they do usually segues into abusing their status down the line, I’ve witnessed it so many times. These types tend to become overbearing because of their ego distorting what is reality in life versus sport.
What is interesting to me is that Merrill is the kind of guy I might generalize as having a pretty big ego after accomplishing his many levels of success in the game of lacrosse and in the business of lacrosse. I can’t say one way or another because I don’t know Brodie personally; our paths have really never crossed.
What I do know of him I respect. He plays the game hard and with the right amount of edge. He is involved in teaching lacrosse through school and he takes it seriously setting that example for his students. Today as I write I also read his words and get a sense of where it is that he might be coming from and it is a place of kindred spirit. We must always “try” to be good humans. Excelling at sport is a personal choice and challenge that shouldn’t require leveraging all your effort or morals for outcomes.
Relating back to working as an NLL General Manager in charge of selecting players for his team reminded me each of those players came with the details of abilities, expectations and egos to fit into your personal team puzzle. This goes for any competitive team in any sport, ANYWHERE.
So often I see character bypassed for a skill/ego laden type. The harmony of a group is sacrificed for the need to win at any cost. In amateur sport, the price of not keeping egos in check is that it will eventually rob the whole group of a positive experience. After all, there are no TV reporters or beat writers following every minor detail and there are no salary amounts separating player’s worth by thousands of dollars. So I ask, in amateur sport what should be the definition of success: trophies or helping develop well-rounded young people?
Merrill’s article goes on to say that “We tend to pass judgment on athletes, positive or negative, based on their athletic performance. We link athletic performance with the character of the person. Sport does have a way of revealing character in certain situations, but I think it is important to remember that winning a lacrosse game doesn’t make you a good person just like losing a lacrosse game doesn’t make you a bad person. The two are mutually exclusive”.
And this is a commentary for modern life isn’t it? All the media following the ups and downs of celebrity folk and sports stars like the Terrell Owens and Lance Armstrongs of the world. Dennis Rodman, Brett Farve, etc., etc. It never ends.
These people were all darlings of the media outlets at one time when they climbed mountains of sport only to come crashing down when their money and character started to elude them. Ultimately what have they learned from sport or did they just discover how to manipulate it? Athletes with rampant egos at any level are dangerous in many ways if only to themselves. The overriding sadness is that they have missed the greatest lessons of sport for life and aren’t focusing on a bigger picture.
Merrill’s most profound comment is in the latter statement of his article. Brodie says “It is also important to remember that your team is not defined by your last performance. Three consecutive losses doesn’t change who we are as a team, just like two consecutive wins doesn’t change who we are as team. We just have to be confident in who we are regardless of the outcome.”
To be confident in who you are regardless of many life situations is at the crux of our society these days. Oprah, Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are only the tip of the iceberg of a society based in self-help and repair of human spirit, life and health. Spending a lifetime in the goal net as a lacrosse goalie gave me time to work out my ego plus some nice awards, experiences and friends. Ultimately in the end what it gave me was the ability to be content in life.
Wins and losses didn’t define my journey so much as the time and dedication to the trade based in the confidence to try. That feeling I got from a certain time and place to be part of something worthwhile outweighs a metal ring that says I was a winner one season of it all. The ring doesn’t define my success, just my part in a greater success. Don’t get me wrong; I’m plenty proud of my Mann Cup wins. I’m even more proud of the decade of lacrosse I worked through to get there.
I have two sons. I don’t necessarily care if they play sports unless they are passionate about it in their own lives. I don’t want to impress my life on them; I want them to arrive at their own destinations (and hopefully through a University Education). My youngest dabbles in sport, has played a little soccer. The older one has found his passion and started his journey of sport and life. He is a dedicated squash player which suits me fine because it’s his love, not mine.
While I can’t offer much as a squash coach I will certainly deliver the Merrill message loudly and often when needed. I hope you all hear it too. Wins and losses don’t change who you are as a person, so just go out and be confident in who you are and you can’t lose.
Besides, I’ve come to understand the lessons in life are always waiting for you after the outcomes of sport.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
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