FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS The departure of Colin Bell as the Republic of Ireland's womens' team head coach leaves the FAI with big shoes to fill. Pic: Sportsfile
THE women’s World Cup has been a breath of fresh air, whisking away old worn stereotypes of women in sport and replacing stale attitudes of inequality with excitement, fandom and gender-neutral world cup fever.
The USA women’s team, arguably the greatest team in the world right now, embody a ruthlessness and a winner’s mentality that is sometimes interpreted as arrogance, but is arguably the most coveted, most studied and most desired aspect of any team training for success.
Love them or hate them, they have done wonders for women’s sport, for the visibility of the game and for promoting equality in football.
They have inputted gutsy, ruthless performances on the field, and a relentless pursuit of excellence off it and, to their credit, fiercely demanded the respect they deserve. They haven’t stopped at winning games, instead they have gone right into the rotten core of the problem, demanding the same bonuses as their male counterparts who have failed to really ever perform at a major tournament.
This is important, and much more fundamental than analysing the fact that they celebrated each and every goal against poor Thailand with equal fervor. That Megan Rapinoe verbally cusses out an American president and is not afraid of the consequences, or Alex Morgan trolling the entire British nation with her tea-drinking celebration.
Like previous legends that have gone before them, such as Abby Wambach and Brandi Chastain, these are big, strong personalities, but they have used their enormous characters for the betterment of the sport instead of their own personal gain.
They have single-handedly reversed the traditional passive image of the female athlete and made it cool to be strong, muscular and dominant.
And for that we should celebrate them, unreservedly.
In terms of the winning mentality of high-performing, dominant teams, there is a lot to be learned. In the ‘She Believes Cup’ earlier this year, Megan Rapinoe drove her studs through Phil Neville’s Apple watch in a touch line collision.
Do you think she replaced the watch? Do you think she even apologised? Hardly. That would show that she cares, and Megan Rapinoe is part of a cold, ruthless outfit that do not apologise for their excellence or even show anything resembling an interest in what others are doing.
Jim Gavin has the same thing going on with his Dublin side. Did he go chasing Diarmuid Connolly around Boston begging for him to come back? Nope.
Quotations and kids
IN their dressing-room at one point they had a quotation that spoke of the value of taking the emotion out of sport, and the total obsession with naturally occurring high performance through relentless repetition and constant reinforcement of good habits. It read: ‘Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen without caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run, in the long run I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it. ’
It is truly fascinating stuff, and interwoven into the fabric of really successful teams. What is their secret you ask? Well for a start, they simply do not care about what you think. Instead their focus is on building that winning habit, and then refusing to break that chain.
I teach at an inner city West London school, and during this World Cup I have listened to young boys and girls talking about the women’s World Cup. Instead of conversations of Luis Suarez, Copa America or African nations, I have overheard conversations about Ellen White’s precision in front of goal, arguments about why she didn’t take that penalty, Megan Rapinoe’s hamstring, Alex Morgan’s celebration, Tobin Heath’s dribbling skills, the exit of the home nation France, and Amsterdam’s shock route to the final.
The thing is, these kids know. They know that this World Cup is quality, it is entertaining, and really they don’t care that it is, in fact, women that are competing. One of the reasons I thrive in the teaching profession over, let’s say a more ‘corporate environment’, is that the kids don’t care how you look or what gender you are.
They generally don’t make judgements and they call it as it is.
Maybe it’s time we started listening to them.
The visibility that this World Cup has given the game is arguably the most important thing to happen women’s sport in years. This one has felt different to previous ones before; the hype, the excitement and the sheer quality of skill on show together with the increased television and media coverage has meant that people have finally had the opportunity to appreciate these players who have gone under the radar for so long. I can only hope that it continues, and that the public, media and corporations alike continue to show their support to women’s sport.
Your daughters and sisters will thank you for it.
A final word of warning closer to home; the next team that the USA will face will be the Ireland women’s team, whose highly-rated manager Colin Bell has just departed from the FAI to Huddersfield Town, citing his frustrations with the organisation as a core reason for abandoning his post.
This is what happens when women’s sport is not taken seriously within the context of large organisational and institutional bodies for sport. My hope is that the women’s team will build on their progression under Bell towards a brighter future, but the reality of this happening without the support from the FAI is slim to none.
Progress, sure. But still more to be done.
Aoife Herbert is a native of Killala, and was capped for the Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team at Under-19 level. She is also a former Mayo ladies gaelic footballer and soccer player.