Jamaica’s Love Affair With the Mentally Tough Sport of Football

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Jamaica has had many winners on the world stage: Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Harry Belafonte, and many others. Lately, the fiercely nationalistic Jamaicans have been building a legacy of homegrown sportsmen and women. Jamaicans have packed the 30,000 seat Sabina Park arena to watch all forms of their beloved cricket, but football’s Reggae Boyz have captured their hearts, too. Since the historic match between Jamaica and Haiti in 1925, men have been kicking balls on fields, beaches, and in backyards, providing a non-violent outlet for their energy.

In a country where the political rivalry is stark, football is unifying. In a 1990s final between political rivals Arnett Gardens and Tivoli Gardens, organizers managed to arrange a truce long enough for an incident-free match. The recent Share the Love Tour, featuring the revered 1998 World Cup heroes and their Brazilian counterparts, was designed for similar reasons. Football engages and channels many away from the crime that has them under siege.

Most experts agree that battles are won or lost in the mind. Exercise is, of course, a brain-boosting activity, but other activities like martial arts and gaming also challenge the mind. Jamaican footballers, as do other sportspeople worldwide, find other competitive outlets in between games, or after their careers to satisfy their intense desire for competition. This “mental warfare” is tough to master, but intellectually beneficial. Indeed, a University of Michigan study discovered that those who play a mentally challenging brain game every day benefit dramatically. Such mental battles help sharpen sportspeople’s talents. Versatility is one such attribute; an unorthodox approach that gets results is another. Even further, the desire to be in the spotlight is indeed a trait of successful people as well as other desirable qualities including being a consistent scorer and possessing savviness and strength.

René Simoes, the 1994 Brazilian Reggae Boyz coach, created an unorthodox system where businesses could “adopt a player” while he himself sought out unlikely players in unlikely places. Under his leadership, Jamaica became the first country in the English–speaking Caribbean to qualify for a World Cup.

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The spotlight has also shown on Leicester captain Wes Morgan, the first Jamaican to ever score in the Champions League during a win against Sevilla, upon the realization of a Premier League title. Football has proven to be his passage from the crime-ridden estate of his past.

A superb example of versatility is Kingston-born Raheem Sterling. Known for his low center of gravity, speed, and dribbling expertise, he plays as a winger, attacking midfielder, or striker. He is adaptable, playing at the tip of a midfield diamond, centrally, and wide, thereby earning the highest-ever transfer fee paid for an English player. Speculation abounds as to whether he will someday play for the Reggae Boyz.

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On the list of all-time top scorers is Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore. Now team manager, he debuted for the Reggae Boyz in November 1993, becoming an international sensation for his 1998 World Cup performance after scoring two goals against Japan.

In 2017, 27-year-old defender/midfielder Damarley Samuels is one to watch for his savviness and strength. Samuels earned his first call to the Reggae Boyz four months after returning from a long lay-off after suffering a broken leg in a 2016 Red Stripe Premier League game. After one year on the sidelines, his mental toughness helped save his team, Waterhouse F.C., from relegation.

Sportspeople discover the different outlets they have available to enhance their mental strength and satisfy the competitiveness that consumes them. More than an outlet, sports that are mentally challenging such as football help individuals to reach new heights and improve their game. With so much promise of talent, we fully expect the Reggae Boyz’s future to be golden.

Find other competitive outlets in between games.

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