USA vs. the World Cup

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It seems that America only knows how to fight a good fight.  Never more true has this been than in the 2014 World Cup, where USA has beaten and clawed its way up to face the undefeated team, Belgium.  After an unfortunate loss to Germany, words bubbled about America’s expectations, but USA seems doggedly determined to beat the odds this time around.

As soccer, as we know it, has become more popular on this side of the pond, so has the USA’s standing in the World Cup.  We suffered a disappointing 0-1 loss against Germany, but spirits are undaunted as we turn to face one of football’s top contenders.  More importantly, players that have been considered more of a liability, have managed to hold together, and keep a solid front, adding strength to what would otherwise be one of the weakest World Cup team contenders.  This year’s system of cards and flags has given cause for concern, but regardless, USA has managed to hold on.  Yes, a few players have had hard a time holding up to the pressure, but on the whole, this has been USA’s best year yet.  Not only have they had to compete with some of the most experienced World Cup teams, surviving the group of death, but they have also had the unfortunate lot of being the most travelled team throughout the series.

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The Difference between USA Athletes, and everyone else

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When it comes to sports and athletics, America has everyone beat.  Year after year, the USA produces top athletes, sportsmen, gold medalists, and trophy winners.  With the arrival of the Winter Olympics this year, and the upcoming World Cup, 2014 looks like it’s going to be another year for USA athletes to shine.  So what is it that has allowed USA athletes to shine above the rest?  USA is known for beating the odds and coming out on top, and we help set the definition of what it means to be an ideal athlete in this modern day and age.

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What it means to be a Healthy Sportsman

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Here in America, we pride ourselves, we pride ourselves on both our athletes, and their abilities.  Yet, alongside that that prowess, there has been rising controversy in the health of many of our athletes.  From drug scandals, to major physical injuries, the sports realm has received also a lot of criticism across the board for their treatment of athletes.  Remember, these are our prime sportsmen, who are valued and celebrated because of their physical acumen.  It always boils down to one, universal question, if your job is to push the limit, how far is too far?

It’s a discussion that reaches every single, major athletic competition in this country.  From weightlifters to swimmers, decathlon runners and football players, our players’ health is a major topic across every media outlet.  Part of any athletes’ job is to represent the ideal image of health and fitness of man, so how healthy are our athletes anyway?  First, we need to define the idea of health.

Physical Fitness:

Of course, we all have our own individual perceptions of ‘physically fit’.  We recognize it in the football players, jocks, weightlifters, personal trainers, and in general, all athletic competitors.  Our players are in peak physical condition, with trained and refined bodies, that often become idealized and emulated.  But our competitors are also notorious for pushing their bodies to the extreme.  Being active in sports does not mean simply engaging in a physical activity, it’s also about leading a healthy lifestyle.  Unfortunately, there are still a few athletes out their besmirching the name of all American competitors, with either physical or substance abuse.

It’s an ongoing problem here in the United States, and one that doesn’t seem to have an easy resolution.  The sports scandals always hit the big news, from baseball, to swimming, to cycling- problems of drug abuse and overtraining are all over the field.  We try to limit our athletes’ exposure to controlled substances, but whether to have a good time, or bring the “best” performance to a game, somehow a few manage to slip through the cracks in regulations.  Take for example, the most recent Tour de France.  As testimony and events from that time also show, this problem isn’t just limited to the United States.  You can see this in the past several Olympics, where competitors from various countries, events, and years have been disqualified for substance abuse.

Overtraining is another problem- being too physically fit.  This can lead to muscle problems, and mental disorders, the result of pressure to stay in shape, and on the top of your game.  Media coverage and advertising endorsements put a lot stress on our athletes to be the best, but when that need starts overtaking your life, you can be putting your health at risk.

Mental Fitness:

It is not enough to be physically fit, but mental and cognitive abilities must be assessed as well.  In light of recent tragedies that have smeared the name of competitive sportsmanship, professionals have begun taking a look at the mental fitness of our athletes.  While sports provide us with a source of entertainment, it should not be done at the expense of the individual athlete.  Sports provide us with a healthy outlet for our energies, but when we suffer serious trauma, a line needs to be drawn.  Athletes and competitors often put their bodies at risk in the activities they engage in, or the moves they perform.  Many regularly sustain injury as a result, but when that minor to major injury becomes life threatening, that is a problem.

So what does the United States do about the mental fitness of their sportspersons?  It’s a tragedy to know that a lifelong and even legendary sports career can result in permanent damage that can render you mentally incompetent, and worse, a danger to yourself and others.  That’s why frequent full medical examinations are an important part of sports and fitness.  It’s also important to be able to manage your time and your schedule well, and understand the stresses in your life that can be the result of sports.  Many athletes are too busy to recognize their breaking points, and thus don’t deal with them accordingly.  That’s dangerous territory, which can lead to eating disorders, mental disorders, and even manifest itself physically.

Here in the United States, we have many organizations and schools devoted to the physical and mental therapy of our competitors.  Education is a key part of this process.  Another is teamwork, being able to treat your teammates like a second family, have confidence in them, and be responsible enough to be reliable.  I see excellent teamwork from many foreign competitors, who seem to better understand group dynamic, without the constant media press and sports coverage our athletes on home court have to be subjected to.