In any sport, or maybe I should say teamsport, two championship titles stand out. Firstly each teamsport will have the ultimate title for their national teams. In lots of sports this would be the world championship title. For most Olympic sports it is the Olympic gold medal as is the case for hockey (with the World Cup as a close second of course). The second championship title, at least for us in western Europe, is the national title with your own club. Probably even closer to the heart because more likely you’ll win it for a club, a team with team mates you have chosen to play with. It is a different feeling compared to be chosen to play with your fellow countrymen.
Sure I must admit, the latter statement is kind of a second hand opinion. I never had the honour of being selected to play for my country, but I have been witness to these feelings from pretty close up with my kids representing their countries. I did feel the joy of winning the national title a long, very long, time ago with my club at a junior level. Although I’m still proud of that achievement I must admit once again it’s not the same as winning the title at the very top level of your country. So my sentiments regarding the topic of championships, mostly reflect those of an engaged supporter.
Years later I got my very first taste of coming close to such a title when my club and my team with my oldest son enjoyed an incredible season and our club played the championship final for the very first time. To see him score the opening goal in that title game was a small consolation for finally losing that final. What I did not knew at the time, is the universal truth for clubs, teams and individual athletes. You first must learn to lose before you can win. There is no stronger motivation than having been so close but missing out to go the extra mile when you get a new shot at the same title the next time. It might not be an absolute condition for winning titles, but still…
2007 was the year, engraved in my memories, we first enjoyed the sweet taste of a major title with my club Antwerp in Belgium. My oldest son abroad, chalking up life experience living on his own in a different country , was “replaced” by my youngest in his second or third full season among the big boys. The amazing feeling of sharing a first title with your family and extended family (which is the core value of European club life) is unique. In sports I do not think anything will ever measure up to that joy… I guess it makes sense the athletes themselves might feel different about this. For them the ultimate title (Olympic gold or a World Cup) will most likely be the one they will treasure the most. But all of them will admit winning a title with your club, close to home in front of your family and friends is something very special. More even when you’re part of a team within a club that is not playing with the biggest budget in the division so where players chose to play for because of their team mates rather then prestige or money. These clubs might not rake up these tiles year in and year out, but when they do… the feeling is good.
So, as this engaged supporter, I am very fortunate to have experienced this twice already now. Yesterday my youngest son managed to win a second title, this time with his Dutch club Oranje Zwart. Seven years after he made his move to the Dutch competition, after several seasons among the best reaching play off and finals without the ultimate reward of a title, they finally won it. Only the second title in the history of their club, 9 years after the first title of that club and for my son 7 years after making his debut in the toughest competition in the world. It’s a good feeling….
Best of all… it’s not over yet. If all goes well, they’re hoping to play yet another final, for the Euro Hockey League title, in exactly one weeks time. Will they be able to recharge their batteries in time for yet another challenge? They have demonstrated they have the ability, but will they manage the mental strength needed 2 weeks in a row? Will they be able to remain in the flow, another strange but crucial phenomenon in the world of sports?
For some of them a couple of weeks down the horizon glows a third challenge, with a World Cup tournament in front of their home crowd and being among the favourites. I’m curious to see how these athletes will manage to peak 3 times in 3 months time. Mental fitness becoming as important as physical fitness. I myself will have no problem charging my batteries for these 3 titles in a row. Unfortunately that will have little or no impact on the final result… But for them the way they manage all of this will be crucial for the final result. So, probably the best way to handle this is to focus on the next game, not losing sight of the big picture and final goals. However also not being distracted for the first step towards that ultimate goal… Winning championships & titles isn’t easy!