‘That is not their identity.
That is not their soul.
Video footage was recently aired online showing Usain Bolt paying his respects while the national anthem was played. I must add that it was not his own, the Jamaican anthem that was playing but the American anthem. An interview had just begun following yet another outstanding performance on the track and it was not long into it that the US anthem started. He stopped the interview and for the entire duration of the anthem he stood at attention and paid his respects.
On my facebook page I posted this same video and my comment attached to it was, “Pretty cool. Quality in character. An exhibition of his maturity and acceptance of his role as an icon for many people, young and old, today.” Now, I don’t think that the man is perfect – none of us are – but he clearly has recognised the different caps that he wears. Whether he is playing the game of politics or took advantage of the opportunity to build his brand a little bit more or whether he genuinely paid his respects, his actions represented something positive.
The business of moulding athletes is something that is too often dismissed. Some of the best athletes come from humble backgrounds where social slangs a significant part of their standard speech while Standard English sounds awkward coming from their mouth. Still, when these talented athletes perform well, they are the ones to be interviewed and when they are interviewed they represent themselves as well as their team. Ensuring they know how to speak and how to handle the pressure of that sort of situation is always something better handled with practice and preparation.
T.V. and radio are two of the more obvious settings that the behaviour and speech of athletes are particularly noted but what is sometimes forgotten is that any athlete, once chosen to represent their club or their country must always be conscious of their conduct. Wearing that uniform should always be a reminder of a few things.
They are an athlete. As such, everything they do and consume should be in the interest of their physical, mental and emotional health.
They are a symbol. To wear the uniform of a team, be it of a club or national team, the existence of that athlete is first associated with that uniform, a representation of the team.
They are a role model. To have been selected as worthy of representing your team is something that most younger athletes strive towards. They set this as a goal on their way to unleashing their potential. They will imitate the older athletes in anticipation of one day being in their position.
Team travel can often take athletes out of their comfort zone and across cultures due to international tournaments and meets. While being in another country, they will see things that may be unfamiliar. I remember when I went to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008, I saw black chickens in the frozen section in the grocery store. Yes, black chicken. I never knew that this existed but it was really cool to see it.
In some countries the people may dress differently, or talk differently which would warrant a particular reaction from an individual. Sensitizing athletes to such peculiarities before they are put in the environment is usually very helpful to avoiding potentially embarrassing situations. Reminding them that they are no longer just representing themselves but their club and/or their country would go a long way in shaping the young athlete in the long-term. Identifying local customs from table manners to basic etiquette better ensures that they do not offend their host or anyone else for that matter.
In the London Olympics, you might recall the blunder of the organising committee that caused a walk out by the North Korean women’s football team when the South Korean flag was accidentally shown on the big screen introducing the North Koreans. Particularly a country like this would have taken huge offense to this error which led to an hour’s delay to the start of the game and an apology from the Olympic organisers.
There are qualified people to assist teams with this aspect of athlete moulding. It is an area that further consideration should be encouraged, particularly with the younger age groups, so that as young adults, challenges with reference to conduct and decorum can be avoided.
Asha De Freitas-Moseley is a certified athletic trainer with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association of the USA. She has over 11 years of experience rehabilitating athletes and members of the active population from injury to full play. She can be reached at Pulse Performance Ltd., located at #17 Henry Pierre St., St. James. Tel: 221-2437.
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