Ain’t just a game

Lessons in life come in all shapes and sizes, and some of the best ones come from the most unexpected of sources. Over the past few months, I have been watching a lot of sports programmes on television. I have seen all eight races of this year’s Formula One season, most of the NBA playoffs, and almost all of the World Cup matches. Having some time in my hand, I analysed these three sports (to the best of my ability) to see whether they can teach me any lessons which I can apply to my life. Listed below are what I came up with so far:

1. The Best Athletes Aim to Be The Best

Professional athletes aim to be World Champions. Who wouldn’t want to be at the top of their game, representing and winning their family/city/country? I can bet my last coin that all of the players that we see in sports today have dreamt of this since they were kids. They’ve set their goals, they’ve aimed as high as they can, they’ve built their hopes, and now, their still working hard to be the best.

How can we apply this to our lives? Well, don’t be afraid to dream. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Aim high. Visualise that goal. Imagine what your life will be like if that dream came true. It doesn’t have to be sports-related, nor does it have to be a million-dollar dream. Just set your eyes on that dream.

2. Put in the effort

In life, only a selected handful, if any, get what they really want without working hard for it. Too often I hear young people telling me that they want to be professional players, entrepreneurs or musicians when they grow up, but only a few put in the effort. These people are dumbfounded when they realise how much work they have to put in in order to acheive their dreams. If you want to reach your goal, work hard.

It is important to learn this lesson, especially if you’re still young. You’ve set your goals, now be prepared to do the work. We often see or hear about an athlete who trains for long hours, working on the same shot, day after day, perfecting that technique. Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers is known to be the first one to come to their team training and the last one to leave. During High School, he studied tapes of Michael Jordan’s games and tried his best to emulate his moves. He also studied how opposing teams defended MJ so that when he faces the same defensive tactics, he would know what to do. Even now that he’s arguably the best basketball player in the world, he still studies videos of their past games, dissecting every play, every mistake and even how the referees officiate. I bet that the reader can name more than one other example of an athlete that does the same.

3. The Power of the Mind

One must have the right mindset in order to acheive any goal. This includes being determined, highly motivated, resilient and being able to think ahead. Some psychologists believe that visualising a performance of a skill helps in the actual execution of that skill, e.g. if before a game you imagine yourself taking a penalty shot, placing the ball, say on the top left corner and scoring a goal, there’s an increased likelihood of you doing the exact same thing come game time. Many times when I watch a Formula One qualifying session, Martin Brundle will explain how he and most of today’s drivers visualise the track, corner after corner; breaking point after breaking point; chicane after chicane, in order to produce the best flying lap they could ever do.

One must also develop a ‘Tunnel Vision’, wherein one pays little or no attention to distractions and focuses only on the ‘prize’.  Take a look at this video of Kobe Bryant which was filmed during Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals. He’s focused, he’s determined to win, and he ignored Chris Rock, which was a distraction. He was only thinking about the game and how he can help to win it.

4. Never underestimate the value of teamwork

Basketball, Football and Formula One are all team games. Basketball and football players rely on each other and their coaches in order to win. Coaches rely on owners and managers to make the right decision when it comes to pay, transfers/trades, and higher management issues. Formula 1 drivers constantly communicate with their engineers during the race  about fuel consumption, pitstops, electrical issues, race positions, weather and many other things, and effective communication and split second decisions can make a huge difference in the outcome of races. An example of this is Jenson Button’s choice of wet tyres instead of slicks in the Chinese grandprix- a decision which earned him a win.

Back to basketball. During the Lakers-Celtics game 7, Kobe didn’t score a lot. It was the rest of the Lakers who scored, defended, and rebounded extremely well, that made the difference. Had the Lakers relied only on Kobe that night, they would have almost certainly lost that game. Also, it is important to note that had Kobe not trusted his teammates enough, the outcome could have been disastrous.

In life, we need to appreciate the people around us. We know that we cannot choose our famliy, and that we should be very grateful that we (or most of us) still have a brother, a sister, a parent or at least someone who we can turn to when things do not go the way we want them to. However, I understand that not everybody has a supportive family to look up to and turn to. Either way, we need to surround ourselves with the right people. People who will comfort us when we’re down; people who can give advice; people who’ll just sit there and quietly  listen to all our rants, and people who are role models.

We need to acknowledge everything that the people around us do. The next time your parent/sibling or teacher tells you that you can do better, listen to them. Let those words seep into your mind. That tap on your shoulder by your team mate when you miss a game winning shot means that he knows you’ll make the next one.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seeking advice is not a sign of weakness but a sign of maturity; that you have recognised a shortcoming and would want to fix it. Don’t be scared to open up and share your frustrations to someone, because keeping it hidden inside can make matters even worse. However it goes without saying that you should also help those around you when they are in need.

5. Bounce back from disappointment

The media built England’s (and possibly most of Britain’s) hopes around its national football team that is currently competing in this year’s World Cup finals. The newspaper, radio and television reports since Fabio Capello’s appointment as their coach has been all too positive about the team’s chance to win the World Cup trophy this year. However, after that infamous blunder by Rob Green against the United States which cost them a win, and after a disappointing draw against Algeria in their second game, the media started to crucify them. The same guys who raised the nations hope about the team are the same guys who were almost telling the team to stop playing football altogether, and even called for the manager (Capello) to retire. Because their backs are against the wall, the team dug deep, re-grouped, adjusted their game and trained harder, which resulted in a 1-0 win against Slovenia.

NBA player Ron Artest was involved in a brawl about 6 years ago during a game against the Detroit Pistons (The Malice at the Palace), which earned him a 73-game suspension which cost him close to $5 million of lost salary. People started writing him off, saying that his attitude does not suit the NBA and that his career was over. But his stints with Sacramento and Houston proved he can control his temper and that he has matured. Because of this, he was acquired by the LA Lakers last year. He provided tenacious perimeter defense which proved critical for the Lakers’ completion of a back-to-back championship. His post game interview showed how grateful he is with the second chance people gave him and for the support of his friends, family and psychiatrist.

The lessons outlined above show that sports can trully teach lessons that we can apply not only to our own game, but to our lives. It shows that life is a game that should be taken seriously and even though we may take a wrong turn or two, we can look back at these lessons to show us how to pick ourselves up and start again. Remember, life ain’t just a game.


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