“The media”, newspapers, radio, TV pundits, even bloggers are well known for analysing and often criticising sports teams and athletes. It is a cliché answer that sportspeople say they ignore the media, “just focus on what we do”. But is that really true? With social media abundant among sportspeople messages must get through. The question may therefore actually be how does it affect them- motivation or inhibition?
The Italian football team, possibly missing out on the World cup finals for the first time in nearly 60 years have suffered a metaphorical battering from their media. They haven’t actually lost their play-off tie yet! It is common for the media and fans to lose belief quicker than the teams themselves. A debate is often had that if the media supported and encouraged their national teams then the results might, perhaps, improve. Is the fear of scorn from the media a motivator for the players or an inhibitor creating tension and pressure? Surely like all psychological reactions there is a spectrum of possibilities. However, top level sportspeople require high degrees of ongoing motivation in order to train, improve and compete. It is likely that these individuals and teams are very good at generating motivation from many sources. Using media comments to enhance performance seems only reasonable. Individuals who give up easily in light of criticism are unlikely to make it very far in sport. The inwardly held belief of the player may contrast with that of the manager, media or fans and stimulate a will to prove people wrong. This reorientation of a possible negative factor may be a necessity for surviving the often overly dramatic and critical world of sports media. Not believing that you are truly terrible is surely a must for these individuals.
The England cricket team, about to begin their Ashes defence, have long had an issue with losing heavily the match directly after one in which they have delivered a great performance. Have they in fact more trouble with dealing with praise? Perhaps they find it easier to motivate themselves in the wake of criticism. An “us against the world” mentality is easily fostered in the wake of such negative press. Prior to the 1986/7 Ashes tour a famous quote read that there were only 3 problems with the team- “they can’t bat, bowl or field”- but that team won a rare victory down under. Not entirely believing the media is surely a must.
A danger may, in reality, lie in overconfidence leading to tough opposition coming as a surprise. Was the England football team’s own misguided self-belief, perhaps fostered by an incorrect media belief in the quality of the premier league, a factor in them crumbling to defeat by Iceland in the Euros? Sir Alex Ferguson always said to defend the premier league was a greater challenge than to win once. The Champions league was defended for the first time ever last year. Not believing you are untouchable is surely a must.
Maintaining quality in light of success and failure is required. Belief balanced with respect and humility appears to be key. The media may aid some humility and provide motivation, even if they can be overly quick and unanalytical in their judgments.