Carl Peters
Sport Editor
4 minute read
18 Jul 2022
07:22

Opinion: Life lessons from sport

Carl Peters

A good coach knows that mental preparation is as important as physical readiness.

Carl Peters.

Successful sports coaches tend to be great motivators – men or women who fully understand that “mental work” is an extremely crucial part of any assignment alongside physical and tactical preparations.

They know that the process of converting natural talent to positive results, and hopefully silverware, requires a close look at the egos of the sportsmen and women in their group on an ongoing basis.

Some will have unique methods of operation on this front and others are able to find plenty of cliches to help them boost the situation they find themselves in at any moment.

Indeed, some coaches don’t have a problem revealing that they picked up certain mental tips from coaches they worked under in their old playing days and have stuck to those in their own coaching careers with good reward.

Here are some of those “golden words”, which can also be employed in other industries and in everyday life, considering that sport is just another human activity:

TALENT ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

South African sports followers should be as aware of this important saying as anybody else because we have had our fair share of immensely talented people fall by the wayside down the years due to an inability to stay disciplined and guard their profession like gold.

This contrasts with the fact that there are also individuals who last much longer than expected in the sports world due to their great professionalism.

A considerable number of star performers, notably in the most popular sports code of football, simply fail to realise that because a sports career only lasts so long, normally until the age of 33 or 34, they need to be disciplined on and off the field.

They are required to take real care of their bodies and incomes, considering a plan must be made for life after sport, too.

The former Bafana Bafana captain from the Midlands, Mbulelo Mabizela, is arguably the best local example of a waste of talent and of big opportunities squandered due to the inability to stay on the straight and narrow.

This is while tennis followers may well feel that last weekend’s Wimbledon runner-up, Nick Kyrgios from Australia, could have reached the “business end” of many other tournaments in recent years if he wasn’t such a “head case”.

They will also be aware of the “path to hell” that former Wimbledon champ Boris Becker of Germany has chosen since his retirement from the game. On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo (football), Ruan Pienaar (rugby) and Roger Federer (tennis) are some of the athletes who have kept themselves going well past the normal retirement age in sport through good choices.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL

A life in sport is not always a bed of roses and there are times when athletes, administrators and technicians get hit by very unexpected developments, such as Covid-19, food poisoning in a pre-match camp or, worse still, a club falling into bankruptcy.

During the last football season, we saw Chelsea drop into uncertainty in England as it lost its controversial owner due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We also witnessed in the domestic Premier Soccer League how players of Swallows had to go without salaries for some months while fighting relegation.

Both those teams made it to the end of the season intact, but the situation would arguably have been worse had they spent too much worrying about things that were genuinely out of their control.

IT’S NOT HOW YOU START, BUT HOW YOU FINISH

Tennis lovers and others would have admired how Novak Djokovic fought back from a set down in his last two matches and from two sets down in the one before that to clinch his fourth successive Wimbledon crown, his seventh overall and his 21st Grand Slam title altogether, last weekend.

Whether in sport or a “normal” job, it helps to keep an eye on the prize.

By adding self-belief to natural talent and solid preparation, people like Djokovic overcome obstacles. However, there also some coaches who look to stress that “the finish is far more important than the start” only when their poor results in the early period of a campaign are justifiably questioned.

 “How you finish” is also dependent on a coach’s ability to make changes during individual matches or the season for the better, like the chief executive of a company.

KEEP YOURSELF IN THE SHOP WINDOW

Many high-skilled players find themselves competing for modest outfits because of where they are born or because their club’s programme has just not worked out well.

Former Pietermaritzburg resident Phumi Mbande, for instance, emerged as one of the best goalkeepers at the latest Hockey World Cup in Spain and Holland even though her South African side failed to win any of their six matches.

While her head, creditably, stayed up, there is that temptation for individuals to lose hope, lower their performances or search for greener grass during negative periods, as you would find in other industries.

However, you can expect wise coaches or team leaders to advise them to look at the bigger picture and to keep taking each game seriously because it will enhance their reputation and maybe even lead to a new job offer despite their team’s sluggish results.