For those of you who watched the Wimbledon and cricket world cup finals on Sunday, I’m sure you will agree that we were served up some of the most compelling sporting moments in recent memory.
I was an emotional wreck by the end of the day. Having calmed down somewhat since then, I have been reflecting on some great life lessons that we can take from these incredible sporting events.
1. The Art of War
Last week, I accurately predicted that Novak Djokovic would win the Wimbledon title (so of course I had to write about the subject this week). How did I know this? Anybody who watches tennis could argue that Federer is clearly the better player on grass. I would agree with you. However, when it comes to sport (and life) it’s not always the better player that wins.
In Sun Tzu’s incredible book – The Art of War – he says; “You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points”. No-one understand this better than Djokovic. While he knows that Federer has a superior serve, forehand and net game to him, he also has a (relative) weakness – his backhand. It’s also the one area where Djokovic is strongest. Djokovic exploited this advantage to its full extent and was relentless in targeting this wing. In the pressure moments, it was this shot of Federer’s that broke down and handed Djokovic the match.
It’s a great lesson to remember when you are in a competitive situation. You don’t need to necessarily be the best to win; you just have to understand what your strengths are relative to your competitors and apply yourself fully to exploiting them.
2. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.
A friend who I was watching with had placed a sizeable bet on an unlikely double – New Zealand to win the cricket and Federer to win the tennis. While both games were extremely close, at one stage it looked like it was a dead certainty that he would collect on his bold wager. Then, in a matter of moments, the unlikeliest turn of events transpired in both matches and he landed up with a hole in his pocket.
It once again highlighted that in sport, as in life, anything is possible if you continue to believe and to fight. Neither Djokovic, nor England (and Ben Stokes in particular) ever gave up hope, even when it seemed that all was lost. It would have been easy to give up – many would have – but their unwavering belief in themselves and the possibility that they could still win is what ultimately resulted in their success – and unfortunately, in my friend’s financial loss (although it serves him right for not reading my piece last week predicting a Djokovic victory).
3. Win and lose with grace and courage
Anyone who has ever played any competitive sport will understand the pressure the players were under on Sunday. There were many opportunities where it would have been somewhat understandable if they had acted poorly – thrown a tantrum, screamed at an umpire, disrespected their opponent or engaged in gamesmanship (i.e. trying to gain an unfair advantage without actually breaking any rules).
However, from what I could see, the behaviour of every one of the competitors was exemplary. Even in eventual victory and defeat, all were gracious and respectful towards their opponents. It made me think that if they could behave this way under this intense pressure, we can certainly aim to emulate this behaviour in our daily lives.
Finally, you have to admire the incredible courage shown by all the players on the very biggest of stages.
It would be easy to criticise Federer or New Zealand for somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead, I prefer to think of the philosophy of Theodore Roosevelt, whose words best describe what true courage is.
It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.