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An Opponent as a Challenge: The Mental Power of Resilience

This morning I stood on the football field in the drizzle like one of the proud stepfathers. Twenty-two of those lanky fifteen-year-old boys were running their legs out from under their bodies while simultaneously trying to hit the ball.

Even though my fingers gradually began to numb from the cold as I filmed, I couldn't suppress the exhilarating feeling of cheering and clapping for every goal. However, there was also a more negative emotion that I found impossible to hold back: a strong distaste for the blatant cheating among those boys and astonishment at the level of aggression used to score points, seemingly condoned by the referee.

The Violent Match between Ajax and Feyenoord

The match reminded me of 2007 when my colleagues asked me to finally attend a football match in the Johan Cruijff Arena. My company exploited two Skyboxes for quite some time, and during a legendary match between Ajax and Feyenoord, I was of course able to watch for free. Everything was fully taken care of, with drinks and snacks.

I've never really been a fan of football and have always associated the sport with a certain amount of aggression, but because my father-in-law was visiting from Hungary I knew I would be doing him the biggest favor of his life if I yes would say, I agreed.

I must say, the view from the second floor was phenomenal, and from our comfortable seats, we had a clear view of the entire field. I tried to ignore the roaring crowd as they shouted swear words, some of which were anti-Semitic. My father-in-law didn't understand most of it anyway, and I tried to convince myself that they didn't know any better. I was aware that not everyone is born with an IQ higher than 80.

The Battlefield on the Grandstand of the Johan Cruijff Arena

I don't even know if it happened in the first or second half of the match; I was so shocked by what unfolded before my eyes. In an instant, I saw a crowd below in the 'regular stands' running from one side to the other, straight through the audience, showing no compassion for others. Women, children, and especially men were beaten with whatever could be found.

To my horror, they even managed to breach the skyboxes below ours. Although I couldn't see it, the roaring and screaming made it clear that the situation there was also dire. It later turned out that 5 or 6 skyboxes had been completely destroyed.

The cause was identified as a gate between the Ajax and Feyenoord fans not being properly closed, and the media suggested that it was, therefore, not surprising that such an incident would occur.

Surprising? What are they talking about? This isn't normal, is it? How does one come to the conclusion that it's acceptable to want to destroy everyone and everything, just because they support a different club?

Your Opponent is Not an Enemy

In my younger years, I played tennis, hockey, and later squash at a reasonable level. I am also a fan of many board games. But I never considered the opponent as an enemy when I faced someone or played a game with someone. Whether it was in sports or board games. Even in games like Risk, where one strategy is to inflict as much damage on others as possible, I never felt the urge to hurt anyone physically or mentally.

But during the football match, I witnessed today, it seemed to be the case for some of those teenagers. Under the close watch of the referee, they appeared to subconsciously learn that it's acceptable to view an opponent as an enemy and to behave aggressively – even if in a mild form. Whatever it takes, just to score a goal. Isn't this the breeding ground for the football violence I described earlier?

Why have we come to accept a conscious but sneaky tackle, secretly holding shirts, pushing, pulling arms, a sneaky elbow as normal? Why do we teach our children that it's acceptable to view an opponent as some kind of enemy where everything is permitted?

An Opponent is Resistance, Nothing More and Nothing Less

I try to teach my stepson in a subtle way that an opponent is nothing more or less than someone who provides resistance. You have the ball, and he wants the ball and will politely try everything to get it. That's what we call resistance, and it's very different from being an enemy.

Resistance is something you'll encounter throughout your life. You want a job, but someone else wants it too. Your partner wants to go on a holiday to the sun, while you want to go to the snow. You're aiming for a promotion and a pay raise, but the company you work for wants to cut costs and downsize, resulting in your dismissal.

This requires resilience because you can't always win. What you can do, however, is give your best and play the game (of life) with honesty, love, and sincerity. I wish that referees on the football field would take this into consideration and supervise it more closely because what I witnessed again today makes me feel that something is not quite right with what we are teaching our young children on the sports field.

The Power of Positivity: Overcoming Without Putting Others Down

A common belief is that sometimes you have to be mean, tough, or even (a little) aggressive to get what you want. Whether it's scoring the winning goal, securing the coveted job, or simply staying ahead of the competition, the notion of "if they do it, I have to do it too" is deeply embedded in the psyche of many. This mentality fuels the belief that success and victory can only be achieved by outperforming others.

Not just in skill and dedication, but also in the willingness to 'go over bodies'. It's a worldview in which the other is not seen as a competitor but as an obstacle on the path to success, an opponent who is the enemy. An obstacle that must be removed by all means possible.

From my deeply held conviction that the power of positivity, integrity, and human connection are undeniable values, I critically question this prevailing view. I believe this stance represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what true power and success really mean.

True strength does not lie in the ability to dominate or demean others but in the capacity to uplift and inspire both ourselves and others. The notion that success can only be achieved through aggression and unkindness often leads to hollow "victories" that do more harm than good, especially in terms of personal relationships and respect.

My belief is that true competition and success are found in cooperation, respect, and maintaining integrity, even under pressure.

We can also pursue our goals based on honesty and ethical principles. This approach is not only honorable but also more effective for achieving long-term success.

By creating a world where empathy and respect outweigh hostility, we not only establish a positive environment for ourselves and those around us but also pave the way for lasting and meaningful achievements.

This journey may require more patience and self-control, but it results in a victory measured not only by our achievements but also by the kind of person we become in the process.

Question and answer

Is an opponent an enemy?

No, an opponent is not an enemy but someone who challenges you to be your best self. By treating opponents with respect and seeing them as partners in your growth process, you can develop a healthier outlook on competition and improve your own skills.

How do I teach my children to deal with loss in sports?

Teach children that loss is a part of life and sports. Emphasize the importance of the process and effort over the end result. Encourage them to learn from every experience, develop their resilience, and always play with integrity and sportsmanship.

What is the role of referees in promoting sports ethics?

Referees play a crucial role in enforcing the rules and promoting fair play. By being consistent and fair in their decisions, they can create an environment where respect and sportsmanship are valued and pursued.

How does sports culture influence the behavior of young people?

Sports culture can have a powerful influence on young people through the values ​​and norms it promotes. A positive sports culture that emphasizes teamwork, respect, and personal growth can help young people develop valuable life skills.

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