What does it mean to be a defending champ?
There is no better feeling than holding up the trophy after winning the championship game. With sweat dripping from your face and turf burn on your knees, you feel as though all the hard work has finally paid off. You deserve this sweet moment, but there’s a catch…now every team is out to beat the top dog.
You know what they say about underdogs; they have nothing to lose. It’s easy to play free and fearless when you have nothing to lose. Back in September, the Boston University field hockey team fought for an overtime victory against the #9 ranked team in the country, Northwestern. Coming off of a victory the day before, we felt as though there was nothing holding us back. The mentalities going into the game were just to play, have fun, and do what we do best. In that game we played some of our best field hockey as a team. It is no mystery why we played so well - we played for the love of the game and with no attachment to winning or losing. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that we weren’t going to win that game. Being a part of #20 upsetting #9 was so satisfying and special. The high of that win fueled us moving forward.
Why is it so easy to relax and play well when you’re the underdog? I believe it is because there is no pressure and there are no expectations. The most challenging aspect of winning is that the more you win, the more you are expected to win. Only the greatest teams and players are able to rise to the occasion time after time when they are expected to win. Challenging yourself and your teammates to raise the bar in the face of prosperity and play with passion is no easy task. I admire Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and others who never let success diminish their internal desire to win. These special athletes play because they love to compete, they never let that 'what if I lose' thought enter their mind. That state of mind is rare and it differentiates the good from the great.
When on top you have to except that every team is shooting for you… you are the target. Just ask the Golden State Warriors, who have won the NBA Championship the past two years. “It’s hard to win in the NBA. It’s hard, especially when teams load up to beat you,” Kevin Durant said as he described how difficult it is to compete when you are a reigning champion. The goal of Durant and the Warriors this season is to maintain focus and intensity as they make their way back up the mountain after being at the peak. When you’re on top you have to come into the game on point or you will lose. Every team is our for blood and wants to be the one who defeats the champion. It takes next level focus, commitment, and perseverance to continue to come out on top game after game, year after year.
Keeping yourself “in the zone” is difficult and draining as an athlete. I am fortunate to be in a program that has won multiple league championships. These championships and NCAA berths raise the bar every year. As we head into ‘championship season’ you can bet I will be pushing myself and my team to stay hungry!