Public Image: What You Mean and Represent Within Your Team and Community

“When you pull on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back! Get that through your head!” This line comes from a great sports movie, Miracle, that chronicles the journey of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” Men’s Ice Hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics under the guidance of Herb Brooks. While the movie is a striking reminder that the United States was capable of fielding a team of amateur players to take on the world-renowned juggernaut Soviet team, the story of how they became a team is the most important lesson from the movie. This quote is the crux of the movie – and really in all of athletics. I will take that one step further and say that in any setting, work and life, this quote is a defining idea.

Constantly, in all of the action that defines the flow of athletics, one crucial aspect is often overlooked and taken for granted – the idea of representation. In order for success to be obtained, an individual must have the self-awareness to know their strengths and weaknesses. The individual must use this knowledge to know how to best help their team, for it is the team that has one heartbeat that will be taken to new heights. Their can be no skip and no falter in that heartbeat or the whole machine fails. In a larger sense, just as an individual is a representation and a part of a team, a team is a part of a larger community as well. Teams are organized in many different ways – by village, by school, by college, by company, by community. Just as players are representations of their teams and organizations, organizations are a representation of the community that they participate in. The same holds true for any company, organization or institution in other walks of life. This relationship is important as we rely upon the faces of the entities that we encounter to be the human personification of what they represent. In athletics, where the relationship between fans and players/teams is so ingrained within our culture along with the critical need for a player to be a functioning part of the team, realizing the importance of what you represent and how is critical. The movie Miracle does a great job in capturing this idea through a coach’s words – indeed, the name on the front of a jersey is more important than the one on the back – that team trumps individual. What one should strive for when they keep in mind that they are representing not only themselves, but their team and community as well, is that they should perform at optimal athletic level with integrity, class and skill along with being self-aware of their role so that they can effectively perform as a member of a team that represents themselves in more ways than wins and losses. This is important to remember for when a community – no matter what size – identifies with a team that is a representation of themselves, many different associations occur with that connection. This can include reputation, economic opportunities, social opportunities and community building.

Now, this may seem like a lot to ask of an athlete. In reality, however, there are a few things that an athlete can do in order to fulfill their role in helping be a good representation of themselves, their team and their larger community. Much of it has to do with trying to be a good person and following the keys to success that were laid out in another lesson writing. These lessons do not pertain only to sports, either. Rather, they are guidelines that all of us should follow. Much has been written about the need to be self-aware and know your strengths/weaknesses in order to better know and perform your role as part of a team. This is what I call a self-aware, team based mentality. That is one part of the equation. The other parts that are critical in fulfilling your role is hard work, integrity, class and skill. The first two of these that I will touch upon is skill and hard work. Some athletes naturally have more skill than others and that can reflect in performance. However, to a degree, hard work can compensate for a minor skill deficiency. That said, every individual should work hard and give all that they are capable of giving to a task. Integrity and class go hand in hand as well. Integrity defines who you are and demonstrates your character. If you work hard and do so honorably and are a good role model with class, you will win the hearts of those you represent. Hopefully the other results will follow in time.

In the end, little thought is often given to the public image of an athlete and that of the identity of the team that they represent. Sports fans often hear of team culture and identity when a team is doing well or is doing poorly. It is always an explanation of something that has occurred in the past. In reality, it is the heartbeat of a team. A team lives and dies by those who make up its many parts. Those parts represent not only the team that they play for or the organization that gave them the vessel to perform, but they represent the community that supports them as well. This is why, with integrity, class and skill, it is important for athletes – and, really, any worker in any walk of life – to remember that the name on the front really is more important than the name on the back when it comes to accomplishing an organizational goal. Individual self-satisfaction will follow.

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