Written by Student-Athlete, Madie Leidt
I could feel the fiberglass stick flex past its limits against the post before I grabbed the blade and finished the job. Another loss, another silent bus ride home, another day I doubted they should have picked me to wear the “C” on my jersey. “Captains shouldn’t slam their sticks,” a friend’s father whispered to me as I walked out of the rink. “He doesn’t know how much work I have put in,” I thought.
I played every sport under the sun growing up. I was the most competitive little kid you’d ever meet–that State Championship my u10 hockey team won two years in a row, against boys teams, you would’ve thought was the Stanley Cup had you heard me talk about it. More than anything, that sense of accomplishment, of having your hard work pay off, was the most incredible feeling that would fuel my competitive edge for years to come.
What I did not realize at the time, was that the sense of disappointment when you lose, or frustration when you ring the crossbar, was equally as jolting. After months of preparation in the gym, on the ice, running sprints, to have a game, let alone a championship, ripped away from you, brings up all kinds of emotions. Why did they deserve it? Was your work not enough?
As a junior in high school I began working for USA Hockey, and on a Thursday morning at 7:00 am, I sat in the dining hall across from one of the camp directors. What began as a slow morning conversation turned into a full investigation of my mental game–something I had never put time or effort into improving.
We talked for a little while each day about techniques I could use on the bench, in the locker room, and in practice to ease my mind in times of stress and frustration. I started with breathing patterns, and throughout my hockey career began stealing tips and tricks from coaches and teammates to learn how to focus on what is next instead of dwelling on past mistakes.
I am in no way claiming to be an expert on the topic, nor am I saying that even now as a college athlete I don’t get visibly frustrated from time to time. But I have learned to control my emotions and to roll with the punches.
Sportsmanship is the treatment of the other team after a loss, but it is also the treatment of your teammates, coaches, parents, and yourself. It forces you to consider what kind of mindset and what kind of actions you are taking at all times.
The message I hope to convey is that it is not the end of the world if sportsmanship does not come easily to you–but you have to work at it. Especially as a leader on your team, you have to be the first in the handshake line, you have to be the first positive voice in the locker room.
No one is saying it is easy. We have all put years of work into the games we love and still let that championship slip through our fingers–but the ability to control your emotions and to lift people up in moments of doubt, in moments of disappointment, in moments of anger and frustration is something sports teaches you that you will hold onto forever and find valuable in every aspect of your life.