In fairness, I really did not have a favourite going into this game, but I had seen Japan play a few days prior and I loved their style. I also sort of felt like they were the David of the David and Goliath match I witnessed in this previous game; this was a game they needed to win to make it to the final 16. I haven’t looked up the statistics on player height and weight but as a casual observer, it appeared they had been on the lesser side in terms of both height and weight in both games I saw. So, on Monday, when the game began, I found my heart cheering for the Japanese team.
As the game progressed I cheered louder and louder, not only with my heart but with my voice. I loved their footwork. I loved the sheer joy they displayed on their faces when they unexpectedly scored the first, then the second goal. Belgium, and I daresay, most likely much of the world was shocked at their early and strong lead. I loved their support of each other. But most of all, I loved that when an opposing player bumped into them, or stole the ball, or knocked them to the ground, unlike every other team I have seen, they did not launch into the theatrics of injury, hoping for a call against their opponents. Instead, they got to their feet and continued. No drama. None. It was actually unbelievable.
I was heartbroken by the end of this game. Belgium had managed to tie the game in regulation time and in extra minutes, at about the 94th minute mark, Belgium scored to all but end the game. The game continued for another minute but the dye had been cast. Japan had lost and was out of the tournament.
While my heart broke for this wonderful Japanese team who was not favoured to win, I listened to the commentators review the game. Meanwhile on the field, the Japanese players lined up in front of the fans and bowed to show their gratitude.
The next morning, our daughter-in-law, Cara was looking at her twitter feed and exclaimed, “Listen to this! After Japan lost their game yesterday, they cleaned up their locker room, left it spotless, and left a note behind for the Russians, written in Russian, saying ‘Thank-You’ “.
My mouth may still be agape.
Soccer players, or football players, as they are referred to in most countries, are some of the highest payed athletes in the world. Some would argue they are over-payed. These men, I presume, are not in the habit of doing their own laundry on most days, let alone cleaning up locker rooms after they have used them. After all, there are people hired to do this job. These players drive fancy cars, dine at expensive restaurants and are used to the celebrity status that being well-known sports figures offers them.
Just to be safe, I looked up the salaries of the players on the team from Japan. I thought perhaps that these men did not get the big salaries of other famous teams and that maybe they were just grateful to be at the World Cup. I was wrong. A quick search of ‘The Google’ as we’ve become fond of saying in our house, told me that the salaries of these players range from 1.65 million Euros to 13 million Euros. It would seem like they can afford to hire someone to do their laundry and clean up after them, just the same as all the other players.
And yet, the Japanese team chose to change the image of professional soccer players this week. Despite the fact that the entire world saw them in the same league as the rest of the players, and I’m guessing the entire world expected them to behave exactly like other professional players, they chose to let their behaviour speak for itself. They chose to be different, and in this case more, than the world expected.
This has been a powerful lesson to me.
When I look back upon my life I recognize the many times I have chosen to be exactly what others expected of me. Sometimes this has been good. I have been expected to be hard working, honest, responsible, fair and on time. I have chosen to comply with this. However, at other times I have been expected to be less-adventurous than some, and I have complied. I have been thought to be too old for certain things, and I have complied. I have been thought to be too female for certain things, and I have complied.
As you travel through this week, notice where you are living a familiar, expected story. Watch for ways you can make small changes in your behaviour to help others make huge shifts in how they view you. Cleaning up a dressing room is a small thing. This happens day upon day in the world of sports and mostly it goes unnoticed. It is usually completed by a cleaning staff. To have a National World Cup Team complete this task without any expectation helps us shift our view of these players from being aloof and high-brow to being thoughtful, humble human beings.
What I have taken from the example of these Japanese soccer players is that at any given moment, I can choose to change my story from an old one where I do exactly what others expect of me, to a new one; one that serves me better, and that better reflects my true self.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What new behaviour best reflects you?’
Elizabeth is a life and leadership coach in Calgary, AB. She provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups and she creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups. Contact Elizabeth to help you or your organization to figure out how to change your story to best reflect you.