Thursday, December 21, 2017

The constant lessons from sport

Every time I experience something euphoric or good, I always think of how a sportsperson would feel upon winning a championship for their club or country or the team he/she is representing. It really must be an unparalleled joy to see victory and reap the benefits of hard work. Equally so, every time life puts me in my place, I turn to sport for inspiration and lessons. And even when things are going as per routine, I end up looking at sport to teach me the discipline in keeping normalcy going. 

Of course, my bias is towards the greatest sport I relate to i.e. cricket. But, I appreciate all other sports and the the lessons they offer. In all my growing years, I was mesmerised by the iconic impression that the game of cricket had on me. For many years, I watched cricket as just a game. But, in the late '90s and in the first decade of this century, I realised how much of what sportsmen go through, could well relate to many of our lives.

While I have never been a sportsman worth mentioning (played street cricket, at best!), I have always wondered why I turn to this amazing phenomenon of human expression to help me in my life. What is it about sport that helps me continuously try and see parallels in my life? How is it that I look to sport, in my toughest times, for inspiration? Perhaps it is the emotion of sport that helps one understand the emotion of success and failure. Or, perhaps it is the ability of sport to offer reason for success of failure. Maybe, it is the combined effect of emotion and reason, along with the circumstantial and hard evidence that illustrates why something in life happened, or has not happened? Or, perhaps, it is the mystical aspect of sport that can be translated into life itself i.e. somethings can never be explained. I have thought about this for a long time and wanted to pen this down today.

Firstly, I am convinced that sport is a manifestation of life itself. The ups and downs of sport are a reflection of what many of us experience over our lifetime. But, what I have come to appreciate the most, is the magic of temperament that sport teaches us. I personally do not know of any other university that teaches us the importance of temperament better. Be it in good times, or even more importantly, in bad times, it is the attitude and temperament demonstrated in various situations that differentiates our own interpretation or response to that situation. As we have seen, sport is about handling different scenarios - running well between wickets, getting the opposition out, scoring big runs, helping your team mate, practicing hours on end in the nets and working out in the gym, controlling life outside the ground, or acknowledging that the opponent is better than you on the day, and so on.

Secondly, as I was growing up in sublime Bangalore, I never realised that sport can be the greatest teacher possible. Sure enough, I learnt from human beings who were great teachers in school and college. And I grew up with friends who taught me a lot. But sport taught me things that transcended anything I ever learnt from a book or a person i.e. the importance of digging deep to improve one's skills, the art and science of practicing what one wants to be good at, the discipline and the commitment in not wavering from goals, the ability to see ambition as a far greater package of life that goes beyond monetary benefits and so on. It was only much later that I realised that the essence of sport actually has had a far more lasting impact on me, than I thought.

Thirdly, sport has taught me that tomorrow is another day. One needs to try harder than today in order to make the future better than it is today. This may mean working harder, or may mean sacrificing current times for a greater tomorrow. Sportsmen do this, all the time. The regimen of their lives is never fully understood, given the fanfare that is on display in the media. What is never shown is the long hours at the gym, or the strict diet, or the timeliness in their sleep patterns, or the overall discipline to become the best that they can be. While all that they do is not directly transferrable to everybody's life, I do believe that the ingredients that go into making a great sportsman are eminently usable in the pursuit of improving one's own life.

Fourthly, watching cricket over time has taught me that the greatest of cricketers have ambitions and dreams that go far beyond what their fans have of them. Having never been a sportsman, it may be hard to explain, but I understand the sentiment. I look no further than Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar, two of the greatest cricketing icons in the last 20 years. Both contrasting players. While Sachin was born to decorate the sport with his career, Rahul had to continuously prove his worth in order to succeed. Sachin once said that he never felt the pressure of expectations of a billion+ Indians when he played for India, because his own expectations of himself were far higher than the collective expectations of his fans. And Rahul, on another occasion said that he spent a long time in trying to be the best version of himself that he could be on the cricketing field. What a way to think!

Fifthly, somethings in life never really happen, despite our doing our best. Even there, sport teaches us to believe. It teaches us to constantly keep at it and to regularly believe that change will come. Improvement will happen. That the future will shift in our favour. That nothing really is permanent. What seems difficult today, may seem plausible tomorrow. The greatest education that sport has given me is to never let go. Keep trying till such time the doors open. It may take a long time to open, but if the effort and mindset are sincere, the doors will open. This is marvellously illustrated by what the great Indian opening batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, who once famously said, "If the doors don't open, score more runs and the break the door open such that the selectors are forced to select you to play for your country". This was in reference to cricketers playing first-class cricket and harboured dreams of playing for the Indian national cricket team. Wise words!

Lastly, I was recently watching the story of that iconic gymnast from yesteryear, Nadia Comaneci, on YouTube. What a sublime story of raw talent reaching the greatest heights (a perfect 10 in gymnastics in the 1976 Montreal Olympics) in sport at a young age, followed by tremendous tests in real life during her teens and in later years. While I don't claim to know the great champion, I am guessing that having been a sportswoman might very well have helped her cope with the many difficulties that she had to face later in life. I think sport has the ability to teach us that i.e. treat victory as a part of life, and ensure that one builds the heart and temperament to handle failure. Easier said than done.

Sure enough, sport is about winning. But, even more so, it is about excellence and maximising one's skills. I think almost all of us have the intent to do better and to excel in our area of chosen expertise. Sport has taught me why the dream of achieving excellence is a far more sustainable and fulfiling. We always remember hard fought victories of our favourite teams. We always recalls great players who won games for their teams/countries when their backs were against the wall. Much of this, I think, is the process that has gone into building their skills i.e. achieving excellence, come what may. Hence, it is so treasured. And the pursuit of that excellence will make all of us go through a series of successes and failures, just like sportsmen do. Undoubtedly, it will have phases of self-doubt, and even of incredible uncertainty along with pedestals of success that one may have thought was unattainable. But, what is incredibly critical, is that sport creates avenues for self-belief.

I personally do not know of any other sphere that can help us handle success and failure better, other than by playing sport. Or, like I have done, by watching sport. It is one of the greatest joys in our lives and perhaps even more needed in the modern times, where anything except winning is considered second-grade. What we need to remember is that, there is only one winner in sport, on a given day. But, the ones that do not win today, might have a great chance of winning tomorrow if they learn the right lessons from sport. That is what I choose to always remind myself about, come rain or sunshine.