By Assunta Ng
The United States women’s soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup Final Sunday in Germany before a sell-out crowd of over 48,000 and millions watching the final game on television.
What is not talked about much in mainstream media is that the team lacks diversity. Only Shannon Box is half African American. It’s basically a white 35-member team. Japan’s triumph over the United States proved that size and height don’t matter, but the brain does. On average, the American women had a noticeable height advantage and towered over the Japanese women.
Strategies speak louder than athleticism
In sports and real life, playing against your opponent takes skills. Perceived to be a favorite to win, a huge American fan base attended the game. Japan was the underdog. To win global support, Japan mounted a public relations campaign. First, a big sign, “To our friends around the world, thank you for your support” was carried visibly around the stadium. It elicited fans’ sympathy towards Japan that it had overcome a lot to get to the final and reminded the audience and global viewers that its team deserved equal support.
Japanese players focused their energy on the last part of the game, the most critical segment, while Americans wasted their effort on the first half of the game.
“We believe we can” was Japan’s team attitude. From the beginning until the end, they knew to win they had to remain calm and perform with their head. But American players looked especially emotional and tense the whole time.
The powerful motivation
Motivation inspires the athletes to do the impossible. What could the coach do to inspire his players to see beyond their own team and a much more important mission to achieve? Japan’s coach showed his players devastating pictures of the tsunami and the suffering of the people before the game.
This was the same strategy Francois Pienaar, captain of the predominantly-white South African Rugby team used to inspire his team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In the movie Invictus, Matt Damon who played Pienaar brought the Springbok team prior to the game to visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 17 of his 27 years in jail. Yet Mandela came out “ready to forgive the people who put [him] there,” said Pienaar. Mandela’s example united the blacks and whites together to rally behind the team.
The ingrained tsunami’s image propelled Japan players to be more determined to win. The Japanese players knew they had to bring joy to their nation and millions of people who have lost joy and hope since the disaster.
Never stop fighting
U.S. team members have a bigger physical presence than the Japan players. Yet, Japan has demonstrated that team work and intelligence work well together. Let your opposition make mistakes. Never score just one goal and be very content. Score one and be ready for the next immediately. When the U.S. was leading 2-1, Japanese players noticed U.S. players stopped running.
Just watch Japan kicking the final penalty kicks you would understand what I mean. They might be shorter, but their endurance was also greater and their feet worked faster.
Now that Japan has done it, this means opportunities for Asian American athletes.
The U.S. Women Soccer team should open doors for Asian Americans. Diversity can only enhance U.S. team. Japanese players can be our role models. Being Asian Americans, we belong to the best of both worlds. If the U.S. wants another World Cup victory, they better include Asian Americans. ♦