Learning from Sport: Football Goalkeepers

Do you think that you’ve been given a task or a piece of homework which is way beyond your abilities? Have you got too much on your plate? Do you think that you’ve been handed a nut that’s just too tough to crack?

A goal in the game of Football is about 2.5 x 7.5 square meters. That’s more than 3 times the reach of a normal human being. Yet, there’s just one person guarding the post.

Football goalkeepers truly are your knights in shining armor, at least on the football pitch. Tall people have an edge as against those with a shorter height, but that’s just half of the story, and most likely the least important half. The many hours spent at grueling practice regimens help when the stakes are high, but something needs to come before that. What you believe after standing there is probably the most significant part. A goalkeeper has to stand tall, figuratively, against the best attackers in the business. He needs concentration and anticipation to follow the ball from the attacker’s magical feet, and then needs the will power to stop the toughest of shots coming at him with the speed of a bullet, doubly so in the case of a penalty shot when presence of mind is worth its weight in gold.

He needs to rise above the ordinary. He needs to be ‘larger than life’.

The best goalkeepers in the game have this attribute, which is why they are the best. Its this legacy of the goalkeeper that we all can be inspired from, whatever domain we do our trade in, be it a student on the night before an examination or a salesman just about to enter a boardroom full of people from the company’s management.

What you believe in, almost always separates you from the rest.

Advertisements

Lance Armstrong and the need for ‘visible success’

Lance Armstrong’s fall from the seemingly insurmountable heights of sporting fame has become a topic discussed about as much as the 2012 doomsday prediction. Alas, the former happened more suddenly and tragically than the latter.

lance-armstrong_2373376b

The embarrassing confession (Photo: EPA)

If, like me, you’ve grown up reading Armstrong’s autobiographical books, the revelation of his doping will hurt. Massively. He had already overcome the deadly challenge faced by cancer and conquered death before his very first Tour de France victory. In that, he was a hero already. But if human history is anything to go by, people high on success rarely know when and where to draw the line.

That said, can you realize all by yourself that you’ve got to draw that line? Does it always have to be that you’ve got to be different, stand out from the rest crowd to be noticed and almost worshiped? Armstrong wasn’t the first one to cheat death, and certainly not the last. Did he need a more visible form of success to be remembered in the annals of history? To have that true ‘fulfillment’ in life, do we always need someone else to tell us that we’re great?

Questions can get more curiouser, though. Would’ve Armstrong’s Cancer charity, ‘Livestrong‘, gathered the same publicity and importance without all his (now illegal) superhuman victories and feats on the race track? Would we all have still worn those wristbands? Would it have garnered the same amount of donations from the world over? And what now for the brand of the organization?

Erasing titles and the records of yellow jerseys is theoretically possible, but it is uncanny how the act of forgetting a bad memory is always harder than that of remembering a good one. Armstrong’s ‘make believe’, while it lasted, inspired a generation of athletes and regular people alike. He was sort of an advertisement for sport of cycling. It won’t take long, though, for people to shun the very thought of him when his actions should actually be a benchmark for immorality. In a way, he still is an advertisement for sport, of how not to be successful.

It would be best to end this post with Armstrong’s own words on the probe into the doping scandal:

“Its hard to define victory, but I thought I was out of the woods. And those were some serious wolves.”

He was right about one thing though. Its really not about the bike. It never was. And now it never will be.

The best person for the job

Quite frankly, its not you. Neither its me.

The best tennis player in the world is somewhere in Somalia, scrounging for food and squandering away his true stamina and talent for want of opportunity. While my country, India, is lamenting about not being able to secure medals in the Olympics, the best archer in the world is living somewhere in its tribal hinterland. These people just haven’t been discovered yet.

The best young talent in the domain of car racing is somewhere in Afghanistan, dodging bombs and the remnants of a bloody civil war, whiling away his childhood playing with toys and excelling in mock car races with his friends.

You are not the best teacher in the world. Your college or your university just hasn’t come across that person yet.

You are not the best software developer or architect in the world. Your boss or your client just hasn’t stumbled upon the best person for your job yet, and the day he will he’ll happily swap you for him.

You’re not even the best spouse for your husband or wife. If he or she had waited longer each one would have found a better, and maybe a more ‘perfect’ partner.

In a world so varied in geography, economy and history, success and fame are a function of ability and being at the right place at the right time. Everything after that is just chance, and how you capitalize on it. This is the best tool I’ve ever encountered to help me keep my feet grounded at all times.

Hope, for a change

Among news of unemployment and financial meltdowns,

Among unsavory scenes of protests and forceful clampdowns,

Among reports of corruption, self-denial and government lethargy,

Among batting failures in Cricket and mismanagement in Athletics and Hockey,

Among wars between nations and fights to decide which is a more peaceful religion,

Among rising costs and declining quality in all domains, from farming to education,

Comes a message, though an advertisement, that provides a glimmer of ‘hope’ to the conscience which is on the brink of extinction.

Hindi (Indian) Version

—–

English Version

Rhythm over Routine

Rhythm over Routine

I have been wanting to write on this topic for a long time. How often have we heard people use terms like “back to the routine..” or “back to the grind..” only to realize that they are talking about rejoining their jobs or regular work after, say, a long vacation or a set of holidays. Not that its the best of feelings, but I have serious dislike for this usage of the word ‘routine’. Its a word that has had its meaning pushed into the domain of negativity due to its blatant overuse!

I’m of the strong opinion that there is no such a thing as an ‘ordinary day’. Its more of a mental attitude, I suppose, than a realistic one. Each day is different in its existence. It makes you go through different experiences, teaches you new stuff about yourself and throws some unique challenges at you. The intensity may vary according to your line of work (or social status), but its there alright. Its up to you whether you want to overcome these challenges or completely sidestep them, if at all you recognize them in the first place, and that’s where personality comes in. Some people, even some of the learned ones, don’t realize this fact of life, which I think is a real pity.

The word I’d like people to use instead is ‘rhythm’. It is a phenomenon that surrounds us, and the word seems inspiring and energetic from its very utterance.

The rhythm of our heart and our DNA

We live by the beats made by our heart following a certain rhythm and its ironic how, unlike the negativity many people seem to attribute to the repetitive nature of life, we actually want the heart to beat in a normal regular manner. We term that as a positive. In fact, any irregularity in this rhythm raises an alarm! Similar is the case of the strands of DNA and the human genome that describes our very structure. It has lots of repetition throughout the body, and people are fine with that.

Dance rhythm

Rhythm is easily identified with music and dance moves. The very mention of rhythm in this sense of the word exudes energy, though the idea of music and dance routines is to be repetitive, to an extent. This is where creativity comes in, a corollary to the unique challenge I talked about earlier in the article.

Running rhythm

Sportsmen talk a lot about rhythm, be it in their training regimens or their performances on the field. Almost any sport you pick has an element of rhythm associated with it. Rarely would you come across a sportsperson calling his/her exercises as ‘routine’, even though the tasks might be repetitively same every single day and procedural in nature. Rhythm carries even more significance in the field of athletics, track and field events, and cycling. In the swimming arena, the strokes look beautiful when everything falls into place, when everything happens in unison every single time.

The same logic can be applied to our lives. Most of the examples mentioned here point to the concept of passion. Musicians and dancers are passionate about what they do. So are sportsmen. If ‘passion’ is too strong a word for you, replace it with ‘attention’ and the result won’t be very different. It would be quite unfortunate if we do not pick up on these signs and surrender ourselves to lethargy and the ‘routine’ of our daily chores.

Again, routine is something that exists, rhythm is something that we perceive. Rhythm is the co-ordination of action. As we go about our activities, this is the definition we should be identifying with, don’t you think?

God and ‘The Departed’ of 2011

God, as most preachers would have us believe, created the world we live in. Corollary: He also created the persons in it as well as the stage for them to showcase their skills and talents. So far so good.

Somewhere down the line, He must have started relishing His product, and would have had thoughts about acquiring some more share in His venture. We humans, the pompous and shrewd souls that we are, would have none of it. Result? Well, the aforementioned preachers would also have us believe that God always has the last laugh. In any case, He always had one ‘dead’ly trick up His sleeve.

Death itself.

Now, He must have thought of dropping the axe on one particular year itself. 2011. Any special reason? Personally, I feel He must have been very annoyed with the way we humans treated the 2012 Armageddon stuff. “Very cheeky”, He must have said. He would have wanted to start his own enterprise, so He must have shortlisted a few people to recruit from the various domains – Cinema, Music, Art, Technology, Sports etc. – across various countries in the world.

Quite to our horror, He did succeed.

God Writing

Well, now that He has, lets have a look at His prospects in each domain. If He plans to start a movie, He is in august company. He has evergreen actors like Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand and true glamor divas like Elizabeth Taylor. He would be able to rope in legendary musicians like Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Shrinivas Khale. Good singing voices wouldn’t be hard to find either, with the likes of Jagjit Singh, Bhupendra Hazarika and Amy Winehouse roaming nearby.

An art gallery amongst the pantheon of the Gods would be most sought after. Surely now He can call upon M.F. Hussain to create one!

In the same pantheon, there will always be a few Gods who will be forward thinking and wanting to live at the cutting edge of technology. They will find pleasure in the company of Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie. The charisma, the intensity, the vision and the simplicity they would factor in is bound to gratify the Gods themselves. Perhaps now they would even have a heavenly version of Pixar and a movie named ‘Earth, Inc’.

Sports isn’t just for us humans, it is surely a thing of the Gods too. They can now bank upon some good advice from Mansoor Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi for starting a sporting enterprise. With terrific gladiators like Joe Frazier, Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli around, thrill and entertainment is guaranteed.

This list obviously omits a lot of other names, who by themselves have it in them to give God a shot in the arm in His endeavor.

Would all this really happen? No one can be sure because no one has ever returned from up there. Perhaps the departed of 2011 will find God less critical and more encouraging than us Earthly humans. Perhaps the change of perspective will propel them to even greater deeds. Will that affect the world we live in, for good? Yes, but only if we take inspiration from their lives and work to put a dent in God’s own universe!

Avoiding being hysterical about Sachin Tendulkar

Before I start writing this article in all seriousness, let me say that I am (and always will be) an ardent fan of Sachin Tendulkar. I have put up a huge poster of the Master Blaster in my room and probably it’s the first thing that comes in my line of vision every morning as I wake up. There should be no doubt whatsoever in anybody’s mind that he is a ‘phenomenon’ and a cricketing ‘legend’. But to the notion of glorifying him as ‘GOD‘, I have some huge doubts!

Sachin savours reaching his ODI double-century at Gwalior on Feb 24, 2010 (Image courtesy: Associated Press, Cricinfo.com)

Much has been said and written about Sachin in the days since his unbeaten 200 in and One-Day International (ODI) against South Africa. A lot more has been conferred on him in terms of awards, mementos, plaques and trophies by almost every Cricket club he has visited. With due respect to the man himself and the organizations rewarding him for his achievements, was all this exhibition really necessary? Instead of increasing the number of contents of his trophy cabinet, could these very organizations have donated money to charity in the name of Sachin? Wouldn’t that have made the ‘real’ difference? Sachin himself has always been involved in many goodwill tasks and charities. Wouldn’t this have recognized ‘Sachin, the person’ better?

It’s not surprising, though, for a country which is obsessed with making demigods out of living people. Cricket, like Football and Hockey, is a team sport. The contribution of one player can make a difference, but often it is not enough to secure a positive result. I wonder if Sachin would have made all those runs if he hadn’t had support from the other end of the 22-yard Cricket pitch. Shouldn’t they be credited too for his numerous batting records, and in turn the contribution to the team’s success? For an answer to this question, one should read the scoresheet at the end of the epic Test in Chennai in 1999 against Pakistan, where Sachin single handedly took India within reach of victory, and still the team lost by 12 runs after he got out. The same story repeated 10 years later, this time in an ODI against Australia at Hyderabad.

What if nobody was willing to stand his ground so that Sachin could reach his century in a particular match? What if the political situation in our country wasn’t as free for the growth of the sport as it is? A brief look at the career of another incredible batting genius, Andy Flower from Zimbabwe, and you’ll know the answer to that question as well.

The comparison of Sachin with some greats of the yesteryears is another thing which irks me. The environment, be it social or political or financial, in which former champions like Sir Don Bradman and Sir Garry Sobers played was very different than the current one. Even comparisons with the original Mumbai wonder Sunil Gavaskar aren’t warranted. The laws, interest in the game, notions of player safety, coaching methods, and fitness regimes have undergone a sea of change. Each one was, and is, a legend of his time. This is why distinguished sports personalities are inducted in a ‘Hall of Fame’, and not given the title of the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of a particular sport.

Sachin has always been a very good ambassador not just for the game of Cricket but for India too, but to call him as the country’s ‘greatest sports personality’ would undoubtedly be too harsh on other sports which traditionally have not had the massive fan following which Cricket has enjoyed, especially when the number of countries having a national Cricket team are so few. The name of Indian legend Major Dhyan ‘Chand’ Singh is spoken on Hockey fields worldwide with the same fervor, even 50 years after he stopped playing the game.

A few days ago I came across this quote, and it struck a chord with me instantly:

“By idolizing those whom we honor we do disservice both to them and to ourselves, we fail to recognize the fact that we could go and do likewise.”Charles V. Willie (Professor of Education, Emeritus at Harward University)

For me, Sachin’s real legacy will never be scoring all those runs in the Test and ODI arenas or breaking almost every batting record you could think of. His most enduring legacy will be the fact that his style of play popularized the game of Cricket in the small towns and cities of India, and maybe in other countries too. Over the years youngsters have looked up to him as a role-model, not just for his on-field magic but also for his off-field composure in the midst of a Cricket-crazy populace. Present Indian superstars like Yuvraj Singh and current team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni were inspired to be what they are right now because they saw him playing on TV. They wanted to bat like him ever since they were kids. These people come from relatively lesser known cities, places which were not short on talent but on good role-models and infrastructure, and therefore were often overlooked while selecting candidates for the national team.

In his early days as a budding cricketer in Mumbai, Sachin was asked in an interview, whom he would liked to be known when he grows up. He replied, tersely, “I would be liked to be known as Sachin Tendulkar”. That says a lot not just about the man’s confidence but also about his maturity, vision and practicality. Here’s another one of his early interviews –

As he went about making a mockery of the bowling attacks of other teams worldwide, he had his feet firmly rooted on the ground. He might have gained magnanimous amounts of money through awards and product sponsorship deals, but his approach to the game never changed, even when he was going though a rough patch a few years ago. Whenever he’s queried on how he feels to be called as one the game’s greats, he replies by saying that he doesn’t get overawed by the praise and is just thankful that he’s got the talent to see the ball a little bit better and earlier than other contemporaries which makes him able to hit all those stunning shots. In fact, this feeling is shared by one of Sachin’s favorite sports personalities, Michael Schumacher, who says that he just happens to be a person who can drive the Formula One race car faster than anyone else, and is similarly thankful for the talent but not overawed by the success he’s received over the years.

Sachin still ‘enjoys‘ being on the cricketing field. He still ‘enjoys‘ batting. He still ‘enjoys‘ being a part of a team which had just won a Cricket match. He prefers being out on the field under the hot sun with the temperature reading 50 degrees Celsius, instead of sitting at home in the comfort of his air-conditioner. The fact that personal accolades never interest him over a team cause can be gauged by his body-language while accepting the Player-of-the-Series award after the 2003 Cricket World Cup final match in South Africa, in which India lost to Australia. This is what we should learn from him – the passion and the enjoyment in doing what interests us.

Obviously, Sachin is as human as you and me, and is liable to making errors in judgement from time to time. I think he should be revered and remembered not as a ‘GOD‘, but as a sportsman who did his best with the talent he had; and that in itself is something most of us rarely achieve in our lives!