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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hope Solo, leadership and being a true team player

It’s usually unfair to try to assess, from a distance, whether an athlete is being a good teammate or a good “leader” on their particular squad.  That may be especially true in what I am posting about today.

Well-known United States soccer goalie Hope Solo recently voiced her displeasure with comments from Brandi Chastain, herself a former U.S. national team player.  As part of her job as a TV analyst, Chastain had commented on the play of one of Solo’s teammates at the Olympics- now ongoing in England.  A minor furor ensued after Solo went after Chastain via Twitter.  For her part, Chastain stressed that she was simply doing her job—to speak honestly about what she was seeing on the field.  Solo did not back down from her comments, even though her coaches reportedly spoke with her about the situation.

In the case of Solo and the notion of being a team player and leader, we are talking about one of the best women soccer players—certainly one of the finest goalies—ever to compete for the United States  Yet Solo seems, at times, to create controversy—at the very least distractions—that may be OK for her, but may well have a potential negative impact on her teammates.

The question then becomes, what is more important?  The right of the individual athlete to express themself openly and freely (and honestly), or for athletes on a team to say and do nothing off the field of play that could in some manner negatively affect their team?

An Associated Press reporter, much closer to this situation than most of us are, posted on the subject with an excellent piece available here on ESPN.  I recommend that you have a have look at the article.

It’s a difficult balance.  Athletes are often criticized for providing robot-like answers and pre-programmed messages when interviewed.  These sanitized discussions shed little light on what an athlete is really feeling.  Yet, when an athlete does step out and say things that aren’t in the athlete “handbook” of things that are safe to say, their comments are scrutinized- sometimes unfairly so.

With regard to Solo's most recent outburst, the debate will likely continue as to whether she placed herself above the team in some fashion, by taking to Twitter—albeit while “defending” a teammate who she felt had been unfairly criticized by a TV commentator.

My view is simply this:  teammates can support one another in a lot of different ways.  A private chat, for example, or a subtle pat on the back on the field of play when things are not going well for a teammate can demonstrate genuine support.  And yes, sometimes a strong, supportive public statement can be part of being a leader and being a really good teammate.

In this instance, my sense is that Solo could indeed have handled things a bit differently and still been true to herself and been a supportive teammate.  But she could have done so without bringing attention upon herself and creating consternation within the team—if that was indeed the outcome of her “tweeting”.

Perhaps if the American team wins the Olympic gold, all will be forgotten.  If not, there will likely be even more scrutiny than there otherwise might have been, with people looking for the reasons why the team did not rise to the occasion- together.

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