Saturday, August 13, 2011

Leaving Aggression On The Field

In the world's most popular sport on the world's biggest stage, the pressure to win is paramount. For German soccer forward Birgit Prinz, she had the biggest burden to carry. As the longtime face of her country's national team, they were hosts of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and looking to win an unprecedented third consecutive title. Had they reached the championship game in Frankfurt, it would've been held in Prinz's hometown where she also played professionally for 1. FFC Frankfurt. It couldn't have been scripted any better, but more questions than answers were raised by her performance, or lack thereof.

After failing to score in close one goal victories in Germany's first two opening round games, commentators close to the German team urged for head coach Silvia Neid to pull Prinz out of the starting line-up. At the time, Prinz was 33 years old and arguably the most prolific scorer in the history of women's soccer. She was to Germany what Abby Wambach is to the United States. But unlike Wambach, Prinz was eventually benched for the final game in group play against France. She was also benched for the quarterfinals, where Germany was stunned by eventual champion Japan in the final minutes of extra time. She played a total of 109 minutes and had zero goals in the tournament.

It's difficult to play down the role of an aging superstar, like Prinz, without a media backlash. After 128 goals in 214 apperances for the German national team, one would think that Prinz would be given the benefit of the doubt, especially in her home country. But with the emergence of a few up-and-coming German soccer players, coupled with a right ankle injury she suffered weeks before the Women's World Cup, Prinz became an easy target. Though she later admitted her poor play warranted a benching, she referred to the media criticism as a "witch-hunt."

What she went through was unique due to her skills and circumstances, but the way she dealt with the negative criticism can be applicable to just about any athlete. When it comes to leaving aggression on the field, it's ultimately best not to take any criticism too personal. Whether one plays an individual or team sport, the overall record one shares means nothing to critics. They will find fault with practically anything one does, so it's wise to avoid giving them additional reasons to overanalyze one's game. It's equally important not to let emotions, positive or negative, get the best of one's attitude. Discouraging comments can bring unnecessary attention, but statements made after an important win can prove troublesome, too. Finally, understand that the game is just a game. Sports certainly play an entertaining role, but life is more than just scoring goals or winning championships. However, the life lessons learned in sports are invaluable. By appropriately dealing with criticism now, one won't be intimidated by the pressures of life later.

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