By Kate Hickman
Lacrosse’s evolution has come with an unfortunate byproduct: the prima donna player.
Ego can be a good thing, or it can be a hindrance. How do we manage our pride in a society that celebrates the individual more than the sum of parts? Our desire to be the best can both motivate us to succeed and cause us to turn our backs on our team for individual attention.
We must own the responsibility to manage our pride, refocus our priorities and trust that a team always is more successful than a group of individuals. Pride left unchecked can corrode team chemistry.
Karri Ellen Johnson, a former three-time All-American at Maryland and U.S. women’s team member, has witnessed the product of pride management from multiple perspectives. Johnson’s team-centered mentality not only allowed her to reach her potential as an individual, but it also helped her teammates rise to her level. The Terps won the NCAA championship in 2010.
Johnson identified two scenarios in which an individual’s vanity could make or break a team’s season.
Scenario 1: You are in a rut
All athletes have good and bad moments on the field. It’s how you bounce back from the bad and maintain the good.
“The best thing to do to get yourself out of a rut is to get your mind or thoughts off of yourself,” Johnson said. “Selfishness is huge. It costs games, championships and relationships. When the focus isn't centralized on you and your own play, then you can release your focus from your mistakes. This could be by focusing on encouraging teammates, lifting them up and making them better.”
There’s something to be said about the power of freeing yourself from the pressure to perform. High-caliber athletes enjoy natural synchronization between mind and body, combined with an ability to play as part of a unit. Focusing too much on mistakes can disrupt the functioning of that well-oiled machine. Redirect negativity with positivity toward external targets: your teammates.
Scenario 2: You are starting to be overwhelmed with negative thoughts or notice them in your teammates
It’s impossible to expect positivity from the start of a season to its end. But negativity has the silent tendency to creep up in unnoticeably small amounts, and then rear its head when it’s already engrained.
“Approaching [negativity] correctly and appropriately can make it a win for everyone. It’s important to qualify and encourage the person within their skill set,” Johnson said. “It’s important for the person to be heard and validated if it’s a team issue, but also reminded of her role, purpose and strengths.”
Negativity generally stems from something deeper, perhaps a lack of confidence or validation, a lack of playing time or the loss of perspective in sport. As teammates, we must uphold one another to our commitment to the team over ourselves.
We must also acknowledge the importance of addressing negativity immediately, before it affects other people. The best way to do that is to hear the concern, validate the individual’s strengths and encourage them to get back on track.
Every athlete has selfish moments. That desire to be the best is what compels us to never give up. The key is to manage your personal goals within the realm of the team’s goals. Prioritize the team over yourself, so that when you are having an off day, you can redirect your focus to what is best for the team by setting up your teammates, focusing on the hustle plays or stepping off the field and encouraging your teammates from the sideline.
Lacrosse is a beautiful sport, mostly because it brings players of varying backgrounds and skill sets together for a common cause in a competitive environment. Always push yourself to succeed, but remember that you are only as strong as the weakest player on your team.
Kate Hickman is the girls’ lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s (Md.), director of Bay Area Lacrosse Club and the founder of Balance Lacrosse. A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.