This afternoon — Thursday — at 2:45 PM Eastern the Japanese and US women’s soccer teams will meet in a rematch of last year’s World Cup championship.
The 2011 match was played in the still early-days of Japan’s recovery from the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear emergency. The Japanese surprised many, winning in a penalty goal shoot-off. Abby Wambach, the star US forward, said, “Maybe their country needed them to win more than our country needed us to win.”
Each team’s style and strategy tend to reinforce national stereotypes.
Elliott Almond, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, explains popular excitement with the US team, “It is difficult to remain composed while watching soccer’s version of the Cardiac Kids. The Americans have a penchant for breathtaking rallies… The resilience has been a big part of why the latest soccer heroines have captured their country’s imagination like few others.”
AP reporter Joseph White describes the Japanese team as, “disciplined, tactical and savvy.”
Japanese mid-fielder Homare Sawa told Kyodo news service, “They (the Americans) are very physical and know where to put long balls and we have as a team to make sure we don’t let Wambach and (Alex) Morgan show what they are capable of doing. At the end of the day it comes down to the will to win,” said Sawa. “Our strength lies in our never-say-die attitude and obviously I don’t know how the game is going to pan out but we just have to dig in deep and give it our all.”
In team sports we can tease out the interplay of individual and group resilience. The doubt, hurt, failure of one can be absorbed into the strength of the team. The courage and conviction of one can like lightning transform everyone else. Home court can — often does — offer an advantage. The relationship with fans and between members of the team can complement or detract from individual competence.
After last year’s loss the US women’s soccer team may have faltered abit. According to Joseph White, “coach and players were bummed out. Coach Pia Sundhage went home to Sweden and tuned out soccer completely for a while. Goalkeeper Hope Solo went on “Dancing With the Stars.” But they were soon back together, practicing and playing as hard as ever. The US team entered the Olympics ranked number 1 in the world.
“Every single player on this team, whether they’re even here or not, even players that are left back in the United States, they’ve given us all an opportunity to train, to work, to dedicate, to sacrifice, every single day since the World Cup, so that we can have this one chance, the one more chance, the 90 more minutes,” Wambach said.
The sports narrative tracks what science is beginning to tell us about resilience. According to the science, losing to Japan last year could even enhance the chances of the US team this afternoon.
Resilience emerges from adversity.
There is, however, a Goldilocks aspect to the kind and amount adversity that generates resilience. Either too little or too much adversity seems to suppress resilience. According to Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience, “Experiencing low but nonzero levels of adversity could teach effective coping skills, help engage social support networks, create a sense of mastery over past adversity, foster beliefs in the ability to cope successfully in the future, and generate psychophysiological toughness.”
Psychological research has found that peripheral engagement with adversity (such as the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake-and-tsunami) can enhance resilience. Findings also suggest that very low experience with adversity results in non-resilience. I know it’s gratuitous, but did Tiger Woods’ phenomenal success since age 8 leave him vulnerable to the inevitable losses the years would bring? Extraordinary adversity also undermines resilience. Did American Somoa’s soccer team’s 16 years of constant losing produce resilience?
My reading of the science (potentially suspect) suggests the US team’s resilience is likely to be higher against Japan than any other team, precisely because the US lost to Japan last year. The science is clear that we are more resilient to, for example, our second or third flood, but resilience to floods does not necessarily enhance resilience to wildfires or other natural disasters.
Nearly two decades after playing my last high school football game our coach told me, “I would never have said this out loud, but my goal was much more about teaching you how to lose than how to win.” We were conference co-champions, so he had also taught us to win. But by my late 30s I understood — and deeply appreciated — the wisdom needed to lose.
This afternoon two teams that have each known the agony of defeat and thrill of victory will face each other. Both will bring to the game great skill and deep passion. Whichever team is victorious many of us will look to the losers as well as the winners for inspiration. We will wince at anger. We will cheer grace and determination.
How well we lose has much to do with how well we live.
At the end of the first half it’s US 1/Japan 0. Graham Parker is live blogging the game for The Guardian. During the half-time hiatus he writes:
Fascinating game, as the US came storming out in the opening moments with all of the adrenaline of the semi-final still seemingly coursing through them.
Japan though are not World Champions by accident and were consistently dangerous – both on speedy counters and with their ability to unlock tight defenses. Solo had to make one fantastic save to keep her team ahead, but it’s clear that Japan will have more chances in this one.
That said, the US are always dangerous, and could have doubled their lead with Iwashimizu’s desperate clearance bouncing off the post. The game is fantastically poised for the second half. As I said earlier – next goal may be absolutely crucial.
The US scored a second goal at about minute 55 of the game. Relevant to our resilience topic, Graham Parker remarks:
If this were almost any other team than the Japanese you’d think this was game over, but they seem to play the same game regardless of the score.
The Japanese score for the first time in minute 62 (of a 90 minute game). It’s US 2/Japan 1.
A frenetic second half demonstrates the strength, persistence, and — perhaps — resilience of each team.
The US wins the gold, 2 to 1.
After the win, Parker reports:
The Japanese players are in tears, but Sasaki (Japanese coach) smiling stoically as he consoles them. They’ve really played their part in this tournament.
Catharsis for the USA as they gather round the flag on the sideline, beaming broadly in relief and joy.
The Friday New York Times has a report on the soccer game that is full of resilience implications. Please see: For Determined Japanese Team; Silver Must be Good Enough.
At least the implications pop for me. A friend has written, “you are, as usual, being way too subtle. Be explicit about the analogy you are suggesting for homeland security.” I think there are many meaningful analogies, but in the comments I have been more explicit regarding one.