May 19, 2021

Stand Proud

This is the thirty-first (final, bonus piece) in a series of short essays I wrote as part of the Ship 30 for 30 program. You can read all thirty essays here.

I’m not a big football (soccer) fan, but it was hard not to get caught up in England’s 2018 World Cup run when they made it to the semi-finals for the first time in 28 years.

I remember watching them get knocked out by Croatia — a close match that went into extra time. After the final whistle, the players dropped to the ground, exhausted. Their body language spoke of disappointment and defeat. Players were laid down or sat slumped, crying, shaking their heads in disbelief, or frozen in a thousand-yard stare.

Amid this visible agony, their manager, Gareth Southgate, did something I will never forget. He walked onto the pitch and spoke to every player individually. He encouraged them to stand up and didn’t stop until the entire team were on their feet, standing proud.

I can only guess what he said to the players, but from their change in demeanour, the gist was obvious. He seemed to tell them not to focus on defeat or disappointment but to be proud of how far they had come and what they have achieved. I’m sure he told them that he and the nation were proud of them too. And so, he transformed a beaten team into a bunch of victors.

I thought this was an incredible display of leadership. And it’s a lesson not just for leaders but for everybody.

We tend to be our worst critics when we fall short of our expectations. But we do ourselves a disservice in this regard. Instead of admonishing ourselves for our apparent failures, we should applaud ourselves for trying and acknowledge how far we have come to get where we are. And we should rise to our feet and stand tall so we can fight another day and try again.