PROFESSIONALISM IN SPORTS
Mrs. Laverne Gibson-Velox
Please allow me to adopt the protocol which has already been established. Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.
I have been given the humongous, yet exciting, task of keynote speaker at this auspicious occasion which I know is the highlight of the cricketing year. I am a tad overwhelmed, a mite scared yet extremely humbled to have been asked to speak on Professionalism in Sports.
I think I have gained a reputation for keeping things real but my intention is to get my message across so that everyone can fully understand what I am trying to convey. I speak from my heart and I speak passionately. I speak based on shrewd observation, perception and opinion. So this evening is not about statistics and data. We are about to get real.
I would like to begin on a personal note. From the age of two, I grew up in a home where the late Frank Williams was head of the household. Accordingly, it was imperative that from an early age we had an appreciation for all genres of music, good food, fine wine (when it was age appropriate) our country and cricket! Yup, whenever the Windward Islands cricket team played in St. Vincent we had to get up early, prepare a basket of food Tanty Merle style and head to Arnos Vale. You simply had no choice in the matter! So I had an early baptism in cricket which makes this a special moment for me!
Professionalism can be a character trait, an aura, an aspiration, a look, a perception. It is an attitude which encompasses good behavior as well as responsibility. Professionalism, as it relates to sports, is multi-faceted and not limited to any particular grouping within sporting organizations.
Many people view professionalism from a purely economic point of view. The perception is that once you derive financial benefit from overseas contracts, you have become a professional. While playing professionally is a great achievement, and here I applaud and congratulate every Vincentian sports personality who has had the privilege to pursue their chosen field of sport professionally, there are times when I get a sense that they were not quite prepared for this big step…the big stage and consequently do not derive maximum benefit from this wonderful opportunity. The reasons will unfold as I progress.
I am not on a mission to bash anyone in particular because I am generalizing but for the most part, our sportsmen and women tend to play from the shoulders down. I suspect that because its sport, they never consider that their heads – that ability to think how to outsmart, outplay and outwit their opponents, come into play. Talent is a wonderful attribute but unless it is harnessed and used to your advantage, it is useless. Unless you make a concerted effort to continually improve your game then your talent is wasted. Remember your talent is what is first recognized by a scout if you have aspirations to enter the big leagues. Once talent has been identified, you are viewed as a commodity and if recruited, you are the property of the club to which you become affiliated by virtue of the contract you sign. It therefore stands to reason that if you’re joining the professional leagues, you have to be a professional in every aspect of your life. However, to remain viable and valuable, you have to put that grey matter between your ears…your brain, to work for you. You have to play intelligently and think critically, even in sports.
Professionalism means you must be prepared! Preparation is not just having the right gear and looking good. Preparation is also mental and physical. Your sport should be treated like your job. You have to turn up ready to execute policy – that’s the game plan. You have to adhere to policy – the rules which guide the sport and the referee’s commands. You must possess that ability to think on your feet – be ready for any change in set plays. Always be respectful to your peers and opponents – that’s fair play. Go the extra mile – play your hearts out to the end even if it’s bitter. Adopt an excellent work ethic – approach your game with willingness, assume additional tasks for the love of the game and turn up for every practice session on time. Work with integrity – always express yourself honestly and do not be afraid to tell your teammates they need to step up to the plate. Don’t be a clock watcher – practice until the coach says no more. Be a team player (individual pretty play does not make for a successful team. Each player has a role and a responsibility to ensure victory for the team. Therefore, players need to complement each other by playing with the same mindset…to win! Be respectful of authority -while it is your right to differ from the opinions/directives of Executive bodies, Managers and other Sports Administrators, do so respectfully.
Discipline must be the hallmark of any professional sportsperson. Once you have been elevated to the status of sports personality, you are immediately placed under a microscope. It is therefore incumbent upon you to display a very high level of discipline. Sports personalities, especially in small societies as ours, inadvertently become heroes, adored by their fans and emulated by those who aspire to become them. It is a huge responsibility that you may not have signed up for but which goes with the territory. As a consequence, you have to be mindful of your words and actions because you are a role model whose influence and reputation are contagious and from whom many impressionable young people will pattern their lives and behaviour. Always strive to be the best you can be ensuring that your influence is positive and socially acceptable.
In being prepared, your health has to be a major factor. A balanced diet is a must and regular visits to a Doctor for physical examinations are necessary for maximizing your potential. Never disregard an injury however insignificant you may think it is because continuous play without rehabilitation can lead to debilitation and may ultimately end your career. The worst thing for a sportsman or woman is to be on the sidelines unable to play the sport they love. Understand the importance of drinking water and taking supplements beneficial to your health. Here I caution you not to abuse your body with harmful substances like drugs, alcohol, tobacco, steroids and other performance enhancing substances banned by international sporting organizations. The ingestion of steroids is serious and will only serve to tarnish your reputation in the sporting arena and will probably result in a ban being imposed from which you may never recover. You will forever be known as a cheat! If you want to look buff, go to the gym and do it naturally. Your talent and skill should define your sporting career not some quick fix drug.
Preparedness also encompasses your fitness level. Along with your healthy diet, you have to practice hard and exercise regularly. Here I have to use Tiger Woods as an example since he exemplified professionalism by changing attitudes towards the sport of golf. Golf, as we knew it, was played by men who toted huge guts and smoked cigars. When Tiger entered the sport professionally and at an early age became a phenomenal player, others began to shed their beer guts in favour of the physique of Tiger Woods. What you put into your training is exactly what you would get out of it. Always be mindful that fitness is a prerequisite for excelling in sports.
As a sports professional, you must remember that respect begets respect. The onus is on you therefore to honour and respect spectators, teammates and your opponents. Yes, you will indulge in harmless trash talk aimed at putting your opponents off their game. However, regardless to how heated a rivalry, it is still supposed to be a competitively friendly game so you need to adhere to the rules of good sportsmanship and fair play. Regardless to the outcome of the game you must offer congratulations and/or a handshake. They cost nothing and ultimately the sport is the beneficiary. Your aptitude, good attitude and discipline will determine your progression in the arena of professional sports.
As a professional you will inevitably experience victory as well as defeat. Regardless to which individual loses the ball at a crucial moment, failed to convert a goal or was foolishly run out, the expectation is not to point fingers but to realize that all players have to accept responsibility because it’s a team sport. You have to take the highs and the lows with grace and dignity cognizant that it was just a ‘tough luck’ moment for a teammate who is already suffering acute disappointment or shame and really needs no reminder of the faux pas which may have cost the team the game. Professionals should not play the blame game. They fall, they get up, they dust off, they analyze, they work harder and they make necessary adjustments. The game you lost is gone…the next one looms and the team needs to put on its game face in readiness for the next encounter.
Professionalism is not limited to the players of sports. Executive bodies, mandated to oversee the management of sporting organizations, must step up to the plate and display a high level of professionalism in executing their duties. Managers and players look to you for guidance so you must create a precedent of personal professionalism for them to emulate. Frank discussions, hard work, discipline, a united front and a healthy respect for each other’s opinions even if you disagree, are indicative of teamwork and the seriousness with which you take your responsibility.
Managers of teams too must exude professionalism in leading by example. Show your players that they have worth and help them realize that worth to the team or the sport by being the best players they can be. This is not achieved by a constant barrage of insults, shouting, disrespect, belittling and taking away the dignity of your players. These result in anger, stubbornness, resentment and may even lead to retaliation or passive resistance. Your role, apart from managing, is also to empower, uplift, appreciate, motivate and mentor. Discipline can be achieved without acrimony. Build the self-esteem and confidence of your team so that they can trust you to lead them. Your influence should be at a level that your team loves the sport and is always eager to give 100%. Always encourage your players to realize their true potential…both at their sport and academically!
There is a growing trend to turn a blind eye to the ill-discipline of the very talented players of sports for fear that they may leave the team or refuse to play. That is a load of nonsense. No individual player, regardless to how talented, should be allowed to hold a team to ransom. Bad behavior should never be encouraged or enabled. When any athlete is found guilty of misbehavior he or she should be disciplined and if this fails then the offender should be expelled from the team! Too much energy is wasted on spoilt children ultimately seeking attention and have become prima donnas who think the game about them. Well I have news for them; no individual player is bigger than the team or the game! Ain’t nobody got time for that either! Every talented sports personality has an opportunity to become a professional! Start making the requisite attitude adjustments and sacrifices to position yourself for upward mobility.
Any serious professional sportsperson should have a Manager or a mentor who can act in their best interest. He or she should be a tough negotiator, knowledgeable about contracts, able to guide you in making the transition. He or she will become your surrogate parent by holding your hand every step of the way to avoid potentially embarrassing situations both personal and national. Remember your nationality is always a factor in news! Be an ambassador for your country by always doing the right thing!
You have to look the part of a professional so you may have to adjust your wardrobe, your mode of dress, etiquette and your manners. You should suggest invest in a book of etiquette which is your guide on ‘what not to do’. You don’t want to stand out like the proverbial sore thumb when you sit at a formal dinner and do not know where to start. You don’t want to arrive at a formal, semi-formal or ‘elegantly casual’ dinner party in a graphic tee and slides because they bear a particular brand name and are probably expensive. Cost has absolutely nothing to do with appropriateness. Have you ever paid attention to Brian Lara or our own Kishore Shallow? They are always impeccably dressed and ooze confidence! And their attire is always suited to the occasion. If, like me, you were not born with it…learn it!
It is important that professional sports personalities learn about managing money. New-found wealth can very easily disappear if not properly invested. That desire to own everything now can lead to bankruptcy. Your contracts, though seemingly lucrative, will eventually end so you have to seek advice on wise investment opportunities to make that money work for you. You have to cultivate the habit of putting something aside for a rainy day.
Professionalism also means giving back to your village, your school and your country for others to benefit from your generosity. Your largesse provides hope that any beneficiary can aspire to achieve via sports. I am in awe of Adonal Foyle. He started the Kerosene Lamp Foundation which many of our local young, talented basketball players benefit from by way of camps and scholarships. His professionalism was the winner here and many of this country’s youth by extension.
Ezra Hendrickson returned home to assist with Vincy Heat on the road to Russia. How amazing is that? Giving back to your country is one of the most gratifying feelings and acts ever. Nixon McLean too is doing his part. Let’s not just sit on the sidelines and criticize…throw in your two cents worth and let others draw from your experience and expertise.
I wish to leave you with this thought. There is life after sports. Truth be told, a sportsperson’s career is possibly the shortest career ever. Accordingly, I am encouraging you to make use of the scholarships you are offered which affords you to be educated and financially independent long after your knees are shot and you become a bench warmer. I know of a sportsperson who, about 15 years ago, said he was offered a scholarship but was not accepting it because he was not getting paid to compete for the university. How ironic! The scholarship was not considered ‘payment ‘and the vehicle to a secure future. I see that same athlete today at the exact position he was 15 years ago because of lack of foresight.
To our sportsmen and women: every one of you has a responsibility to yourselves to ensure that you attain the highest level of professionalism possible that when you enter any arena people will have to pay attention to you…Please remember your role as official or unofficial sports ambassadors for our country which you must take pride in and always try to exemplify the highest standards of personal and professional behavior wherever you go. Challenge yourselves to become better at sports, better individuals and better citizens. Challenge yourselves to become Mike Findlay, Winston Davis, Ian Allen, Nixon McLean, Cameron Cuffy, Kenroy Peters and every other cricketer who has had the opportunity to play for the West Indies, Windward Islands and County Cricket in England!
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen!