Hockey is very much a team game, and we just witnessed some great team play at the IIHF world U-20 championship gold medal game between Sweden and Canada on Friday. So it was a bit disappointing to see it end with a team captain venting his own frustration rather than displaying the positive leadership and sportsmanship expected of such a position.
The gold medal match in snowy, cold Buffalo, N.Y. was a battle of two very talented teams. Canada scored first and then Sweden tied it in the same second period. It was back and forth with chances at both ends. The game was an exciting 1-1 tie when, with just over a minute left in the game, Tyler Steenbergen deflected a shot into the Swedish net for the winning goal.
For the Swedes — who had beaten a powerful Team USA to make it to the finals — the defeat was crushing. They had played great throughout the tournament and even outshot Canada in the final. And so during the medal ceremony, Swedish captain Lias Andersson on receiving his silver prize, skated over to the stands and threw it into the crowd.
I understand his upset. Rather than the medal representing a significant achievement to him, I see his actions as an expression of his feelings: disappointment, frustration and loss. It was a case of "you don't win silver, you lose gold."
And while I understand his actions, I don't applaud the behaviour. Andersson is the captain of his team. His actions represent his team and his country. And he is a role model to some youngsters. Instead of waiting for all his teammates to receive their medals, he skated away from the group and threw his medal away.
Whatever the reason, I don't agree with those who call him a sore loser. I see him more as a self-minded, heartbroken 19 year old expressing his frustration.
I don't know Andersson, and I didn't talk with him post-game. I don't know if his medal toss represented more than his profound disappointment. Was he upset with the officiating (Sweden had six more penalties than Canada), or the partisan Canadian crowd?). Whatever the reason, I don't agree with those who call him a sore loser. I see him more as a self-minded, heartbroken 19 year old expressing his frustration.
I think Andersson has a future in professional sport. As such, he would do well to reflect on this experience and work on managing his impulsivity. A key to being a successful performer in sport and in life is learning emotional control.
I believe the mind is like a super-computer. And if you don't like what you're thinking or feeling, you have to change programs. One of the things my clients have found most helpful is learning the technique for changing programs, which involves taking a breath, releasing tension, and refocusing on the positive.
I describe the process in my free online Sport Psychology School. It's something best taught away from these high-pressure moments. And with practice, one can develop enough habit strength to manage intensity and stay cool under pressure.
A young man's caring
We always coach players that it's team first, and that to be successful the we has to be bigger than the me. On a world championship stage, as a captain representing your team that has just had an excellent tournament and is being acknowledged with a silver medal, I think more we from Andersson and less me would have been more appropriate.
His actions spoke more about a young man's caring, his impulsivity and his upset, and less about the sportsmanship of the game and the class that Team Sweden brought to this world championship.
I'll certainly cut him some slack for his medal toss. It may have offended a few, but hurt no one. And I'm inclined to believe with reflection and maturity he won't be doing something like that again.
Dr. Saul L. Miller is a sport psychologist, author of nine books including Hockey Tough: A Winning Mental Game, Performing Under Pressure, and Why Teams Win. He was at the world junior tournament working with Team Switzerland.
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