A great Saturday so far spent watching an amazing array of sport. My kind of day. But, lessons abound. Our beloved–by some–West Indies cricket team has just ‘snatched defeat from the jaws of victory’. They had a commanding position against India, but managed to “implode”, according to one Caribbean sports commentator. He later said that India had mounted a stunning “comeback”. It can’t be both: we either presented them with the win or they’d earned it. But, enough parsing. Bottom line: another choke.
Do we have what it takes to be great in some spheres anymore? Much has changed in the world since West Indies dominated cricket. Why that has changed is complex and not agreed. We lost ground and others improved. That’s not unusual in sport.
I watched a wonderful champion in another sport show how tides can turn. Roger Federer, best current champion and world number one, Novak Djokovic, in straight sets in Shanghai earlier today. Federer, who holds the record for the longest period as number one in men’s tennis, saw his rank slip and fall fast over the past two years. He was older than most of his main rivals and his graceful and efficient style was not enough to topple the strong baseline hitters represented by Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. He resisted an important equipment change that would have put him level in that area, but eventually began using a bigger racket. He got over injuries that were sapping his staying ability. He changed coach to Stefan Edberg, who got Federer to trust more in his very good serve-volley game. Today, all his sublime skills were on display, plus his ability to focus and concentrate on every important point.
He got lucky over the past year: Nadal had prolonged injuries; Murray lost form after injuries. But, success begets success. Federer began winning again and was making finals, though not a lock each time. He still suffered some losses to players he’s dominated in the past. But, he also showed that he has a talent that comes from years of winning: finding ways to stare defeat down and come out a winner. Just this week, in Shanghai, he saved set points, then five match points before winning an early round match.
He’s balanced his personal life to fold well with his sporting career…and how. He’s fathered two sets of twins! His wife’s a former tennis player, who’s been on the circuit following him for years, so is expert in the role of supporter.
He’s made getting older not seem like a burden as his fitness regime is solid. But, overall, he’s made clear that he’s passionate about his playing.
Physical talent is important, but many say that what is between the ears is more important. The greatest are mental Titans. In golf, it’s said that it is 90 percent mental and 10 percent mental. José Mourihno showed what happens when you get into other people’s heads. Latest victim, Arsene ‘the shover’ Wenger.
I’m not suggesting that West Indies need a physiologist. But, I’m suggesting that West Indies need some psychologists. They may actually be pretty bad technically, because the execution of skills is low. But, we can retrain skills more easily than rebuild mental strength in athletes.