The Kids woopin' it up!
Invictus - Latin for 'unconquered':The poem was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley whose leg was amputated below the knee at 17 having contracted tuberculosis of the bone. The poem was made famous by Nelson Mandela who recited it to other prisoners on Robben Island and was empowered by its message of self mastery. More lately the line, 'bloody but unbowed', was the Daily Mirror's headline the day after the 7th July London bombings in 2005. Out of the night that covers me,
Wind the clock back 30 odd years. That puts me in Tucson, Arizona as a 13 year old, absolutely besotted with tennis. I'm a member of the Tucson Racquet Club, a 33-court tennis, health and fitness centre. The junior programme was run by some great coaches, Gary, Sam, and Mike, and I was lucky enough that my parents could afford for me to have a lesson or two a month and a couple of 'clinics' a week with them.Other than that though, the rest of my tennis development was up to me and over the next two years I must have racked up over 1500 practice sets, most of them with a crew of my best mates down at the club, but I'd also hustle the better adult men for a set whenever I could. And the thing was this: there were no rating or ranking points riding on these sets, no kudos to be gained or bragging rights - it was just about the tennis, the sheer love of getting out there when the temperature was often well over 100 degrees, hearing the squeak of my shoes on the concrete courts (wrecking my knees in the process for later life though!) and matching my skills and wits against whatever opponent I'd dragged onto court. I still remember to this day hitting my first topspin backhand lob. It wasn't in a lesson, or a clinic (squad to us over here in Britain) but in one of the countless sets I played against Rog on a Saturday afternoon. We had been watching some US Open highlights in the bar earlier, and inspired raced out onto court 7, the show court! A two minute warm-up at best and we were straight to it. As Rog worked his way into the net behind an approach, I instinctively changed my grip, dropped the racket head below the ball and ripped up the back of it for a perfect lob whilst he stood dumbfounded at net wondering, as I was, where the heck that came from. So what you're thinking? Well, the key thing here is that I doubt I'd have ever tried that if there was 'more' riding on the match - if rating or ranking points were at stake for example. But this was just Rog and Mike out on court 7 doing our normal weekend thing and with it came the freedom to experiment, to take some risks, to play simply for the sake of playing and in doing so learning more that I could have ever have been taught. I know the rating/ranking deal is important, but if that's all you're competing for, I wonder if you're limiting your chances, limiting those moments when for the for first time you might just drop that racket head below the ball....
Many of us involved in sport often talk of and sell the idea of 'life lessons' learned through it. This week I was lucky enough to listen to motivational speaker Marc Woods who highlighted a couple of qualities that re-enforce this idea.In his opinion, athletes are particularly good at: - receiving feedback
Imagine walking into an interview and being asked what qualities you'd bring to an organisation. The ability to receive feedback, especially tough or unwelcome messages and the ability to objectively review one's own performance would have to be behavioural characteristics at the top of any employer's list. An athlete is on the constant end of feedback, whether it's the outcome of a shot or the result of a game, and of course through a coach or significant other. Assuming the athlete is constantly busy getting better, they will also be reviewing every training session or match, looking at what they did well and where improvements can be made. Great life lessons indeed.