O’Brien’s Way – How did we drop the ball?

People love sports. We are drawn to the success of athletes; we crave their success.

Over the past two weeks, we have witnessed incredible ups and one very serious down of our nation’s success. The euphoria that came from it, the national pride, was palpable. Then we had the final.

For some reason Apathy found its way into Vanuatu’s U-20 team. Why? No one will know for sure but it would appear from the outside looking in that it these guys felt they had done what they came to do, and that was qualify for the U-20 world cup in South Korea.

OK that’s fine, but the question remains: how can a side that was performing so well and with such unity fail in the most dismal and embarrassing of fails—5-0 in their own country in front of their own crowd?

How can a team that was doing so well, that has been so consistent, drop the ball? To better understand this we need to look at sport in Vanuatu.

This was not totally unexpected, as they are the first team to make it to an official FIFA World Cup competition. We have no precedent for this, neither as a sporting nation, nor as supporters of our national side. This was a first.

How do we address this problem and learn from our mistakes? Simple really: all we need to do is encourage success in our kids as they go through the school system. We need to encourage many types of sports and create an environment whereby we as a nation understand that there are rivalries, and there will be days we lose because we are just not good enough on the day. We need to learn how to support a team or individual that is at low ebb, knowing full well that they can turn it around.

New Zealand taught us a big lesson on Saturday: Each time the whistle blows, what ever happened behind us stays there. We are only as good as we are at that moment. Dreams make us sleep, life can cut us deep, but we do need to rebound and embrace the hiding that was handed out to our Boys last Saturday. We need to trust that when they go to South Korea, they will realise that until the last whistle blows they cannot –nay, must not—take their eyes off the prize.

No, its not about winning the World Cup—even though that would be a dream come true, but to be able to hold their heads high on the world stage, to take stock of their achievements, and be proud that they have done everything in their power to bring the best to the pitch no matter what the circumstances.

Pulling on the national colours should bring the best out of the competitors, the pride to carry the hopes and dreams of Vanuatu as a nation that is what representing your country is about. It’s not about the individual; it’s about the team. And like it or not, we are all in one way or another part of that team as they represent us.

Vanuatu needs to develop its sporting programs. A lot of work has to go into developing sports in Vanuatu. We need some heroes. We need some excitement.

The feeling around town last Tuesday was intense; it was filled with pride. Pride of a people coming together as one.

What these boys have achieved as a playing group is something to behold. They will learn from this and they will get the chance to prove themselves when you represent Vanuatu on the world stage, some will even be given contracts to play in other parts of the world expanding both their own personal horizons as well as Vanuatu’s.

Congratulations Vanuatu National Under 20’s. You did good. Learn from the final. Embrace it and remember that feeling—I am sure it is one you will never want to feel again. Good Luck in South Korea!

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