Column: The merits of motivation

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Senior Jon Forrest bowls over a Mahopac defender on Sept. 15. New Rochelle was motivated to get their first win of the season, but Forrest’s gritty running ensured that they got it. Photo/Bobby Begun

Motivation is a tricky thing.
If you’ve ever listened to sports talk radio or read sports columnists, you’ve doubtless heard talk of teams “being up” for a certain game, or how bulletin board material can inspire teams to reach lofty heights on game day. In my 28 years on this earth, however, I wonder just how much “extra” motivation comes into play when it comes time to deciding winners and losers. In my mind, a team’s motivation will only take them as far as their talent dictates.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to play high school sports now. With Twitter, blogs and web-based columns, it must be easy and tempting for today’s high school athletes to go online and see what strangers—many of whom seem to have forgotten that the prime purpose of high school athletics is to help build future leaders and not to create a forum for people who are still hung up on their own glory days to rant about a 16-year-old cornerback’s inability to play the run—have to say about a team’s strengths and weaknesses. With the constant online back-and-forth, it would seem that there is a neverending supply of manufactured ammunition for athletes to draw from on game day.

Back in my playing days, there was only one source of indignation that and my teammates and I would have access to. On Friday mornings in the fall, we would pile into our defensive tackle’s car and head into Scarsdale Village to pick up the latest edition of The Journal News, which would print predictions for each football matchup of the weekend. Given our lack of offensive prowess, most weeks’ prognostications would have our team as two touchdown underdogs. That was all we needed. We would seethe, barking about the lack of respect we had been shown, that ire building to a head on Saturday afternoon, when we would show up to the field and prove those naysayers wrong, losing by three scores instead.

Obviously, being motivated for our game was not nearly enough to overcome our fundamental lack of talent.

But over the first two weeks of the football season this year, I’ve seen motivation play a big part in some of the area’s games. On Sept. 7, a Harrison community, mourning the loss of coaching legend Art Troilo, Sr., rallied around the Huskies’ team—and its coach, Art Jr.—as Harrison thwarted a challenge from a tough Brewster squad to win an emotional season opener.

On Sunday, New Rochelle—the defending Class AA state champs—bounced back after a week one loss to Ketcham with a second-half rally against Mahopac. For the Huguenots, the game was a must-win, not only in terms of an eventual playoff seed, but also in terms of silencing some voices who contended this Huguenot team didn’t have the talent to duplicate last year’s success. Those sentiments, said quarterback Nas Sinkfield-Shelton, helped power the New Rochelle squad to victory.

So was it motivation alone that led the Huskies and Huguenots to big wins? Probably not. In both cases, the teams with a little something extra to play for had something else going for them—a supremely talented roster, players like Jake Marino, Mike Amicucci, Jon Forrest and Nas Sinkfield-Shelton to lead the way.

So yes, motivation can be a tool, and inspiration for game day heroics. But once the game starts, it always helps to have a couple of studs as well.

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.