Shame is an unwanted feeling that we associate with avoiding and withdrawing. When people feel shame, they just want the floor to open up and swallow them. In sport, our shame is public. We might run down the field in Croke Park with an opportunity to score a point and put two points between the teams, and we kick the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands. She plays the ball quickly up the field and the opposition score a goal. Now we are two points down. The feeling of shame is what the player wishes to avoid; now she would be happy to escape and hide.
What would you expect to see out on the field of play if someone were experiencing shame?
What might their body language look like?
Research shows that when individuals are experiencing shame, they (1) collapse their shoulders and (2) move their head and eyes downward to avoid the gaze of others. All of that seems straight-forward, but what if you are not seeing shame in action? What might you conclude? She doesn’t care! Look at her! But what role do we play as players in the shame game? Remember that we also play a role in self-evaluation. One player might miss two easy points but not bother about it and try for the third point when the chance comes her way. We might feel shame because we did not live up to our standards or the roles and goals others held for us.
Shame in Gaelic Football
Maybe there is something deeper going on here than a one-off experience of shame in Gaelic football. What if we feel shame because we fail and we put that failure down to a lack of ability? Some researchers argue we might slide towards our undesired for feared self. The danger here is that shame captures that sense of badness of the entire self – all of me is a failure. In short, we see ourselves as unlovable. In the contexts of Gaelic games, that attachment to and relationship with others is critical. For example, the player wants the coach and selectors to pick her. The player wants her team mates to trust and respect her football ability.
Research among parents shows that when those who respond with disgust to their child’s failure to meet a specific standard, the child experiences shame. We can imagine a child dropping an egg on the floor or spilling his drink or coming up short in a homework lesson. Perhaps we can imagine that experience happening five times a day. We can extrapolate that experience over 15 years while the child is in the home. We see a figure around 27,000 experiences of shame. That is quite a lot of shame to experience at home before you leave your teenage years. I often wonder how many children will experience pride (we consider it the opposite of shame here) to the same number during their childhood and teenage years. These are considerations for us all (and me too as a parent). There are opportunities to experience pride and shame in Gaelic games. A little shift towards pride seems like a good move, and we might need a blanket defence to tackle shame. Let’s see if we can find more opportunities to feel proud. What was that line again from Heather Small: What have you done today to make you feel proud?
McGregor, H., & Elliot, A. (2005). The shame of failure: Examining the link between fear of failure and shame. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(2), 218–231. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167204271420