In just about every sport, the ability to be aggressive is not only important, but a prerequisite for success. The athlete who holds back, avoids contact or is afraid to take risks will not perform as well as his/her more aggressive counterpart. Being aggressive is an integral part of being a high level competitor and what usually separates the best from the rest.
Having said that however, it’s important to distinguish between goal-directed aggression and aggression that is excessive, emotion-driven and has little to do with the actual game.
Last month (November 6th) in the semi-finals of their Mountain West Conference tournament, the New Mexico women’s soccer team squared off against Brigham Young University. The game was very physical with only one score for BYU in the 31st minute. However, the one consistent feature of the game was the overly aggressive, almost out-of-control behavior of New Mexico junior defender, Elizabeth Lambert.
Throughout the game, cameras caught her fouling excessively and hard, both off the ball and in the middle of plays. She is seen punching a player in the back, violently taking out the feet of another player, kneeing someone else, punching one player in the face as she “went for the ball,” blatantly tripping another, and the coup d’resistance, grabbing BYU forward Kassidy Shumway’s ponytail from behind and violently snapping her head back, pulling her to the ground!
It appeared that the aggression displayed on almost every one of these plays had little to do with winning the ball in that moment and much more to do with Lambert deliberately trying to injure her opponents!
Three things are striking about Lambert’s blatantly unsportsmanlike and dangerous behavior. First, her teammates had absolutely no response! Not one Lobo player said anything to her during the game about stopping her obvious out-of-control behavior!; Second, Lambert’s coach, Kit Vela allowed this behavior to continue, leaving her in the entire game; Third, and equally mind-boggling, the refs only yellow carded her in the 76th minute after she stuck out her foot and deliberately tripped a BYU opponent!
While I am a firm believer in celebrating a female athlete’s ability to be competitive and aggressive in playing her game like male athletes, Lambert’s behavior had nothing to do with goal-oriented aggression. Her “play” crossed a dangerous line.
Afterwards she issued this public statement: “I am deeply and wholeheartedly regretful for my actions. My actions were uncalled for. I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation, (for 90 minutes!). I take full responsibility for my actions and accept any punishment felt necessary. This is in no way indicative of my character or the soccer player I am, (Unfortunately, her behavior throughout this game points otherwise).”
In response to this incident, Lambert has been suspended indefinitely from the Lobo’s program and the Mountain West Conference is investigating further.
This kind of excessive aggression is far more common to male athletes and it’s important that Lambert not be overly vilified. However, male or female, at any level that the games are played on, there should be no place for this kind of dangerous behavior in sports.