So England have just regained The Ashes – something that prompted me to post a little friendly jibe at my Aussie friends on Facebook. Why did I bother? I don’t particularly like cricket. I don’t follow it as a sport. I don’t even know all the English team. In fact I only ever pay attention to the result of The Ashes matches.
I think I did it because they care so much and would delight in rubbing my nose in an English defeat. So I guess it’s just petty boy banter then. But it made me think about the different approaches to sport and whether that could be a lesson for life.
Firstly why do the Aussies care so much about The Ashes? I think it’s partly an enduring connection to the motherland even if the relationship is now more like a rebellious teenager goading their seemingly stuck-in-the-mud parents. It’s partly their delight in performing well on a world stage – particularly with a small population as they endlessly point out to anyone who is still listening by this point. It’s partly their relentless drive to achieve in any field and it’s partly because they love poking fun at the Poms.
But running under all that is a strong belief in positivity and they genuinely believe they will win despite the odds or predictions of experts. They are masters of inner talk, of visualisation and of determination. Perhaps there’s an argument that this stems from their pioneer past – at least for those who chose to go there voluntarily. I think it’s more about their approach to sport in schools, and to life in general. They simply don’t have the same history of inequality and lack of opportunities. (Yes I know I’m conveniently ignoring the issue of the Aborigines – not because i’m unsympathetic or dismissive – I just don’t think it fits into this, so please bear with me). So they see every Aussie team as a possible world beater and they go with that belief until they are proved wrong – if they are proved wrong!
So what do we English do differently? (and I’m deliberately excluding our celtic neighbours because I think they do have a different approach). Well we love to build up sporting heroes, or icons in any field, and then we delight in tearing them down. Before every tournament our media is full of stories about how we are finally going to be world leaders, often despite the evidence of past performances. How many times was Tim Henman about to win Wimbledon? How many times were the English football going to heal what will be 50 years of hurt next year? And yet take the temperature in any pub and you’ll get a very different story. We know most of these teams or players are not world class and we prepare ourselves for defeat, avoiding humiliation if possible.
So we have two contrasting approaches to sport – and I would argue to life in general. The Aussies think positively, visualise success and stop at nothing in their attempts to achieve it. The English fear the worst, hope for the best, and our overriding goal seems to be avoiding embarrassment. We’d much prefer giving the impression we’ve done our best and missed out narrowly than really going for it and getting a battering for our efforts. The Terry Butcher bloody bandage image of sporting resilience now seems to be sadly lacking from many of our sporting heroes. I’m sure there’s another article in the possible reasons for this – our approach to competitiveness, money in sport, fear of failure etc etc
So which is better if we move outside the world of sport and think of this in terms of everyday life? As usual I think the answer lies somewhere between the two. I’m a massive advocate of positive thinking, removing negativity and visualisation etc. But I also strongly believe this is not enough and on its own rarely results in positive changes to people’s lives. I believe it needs to be tempered by realism. No amount of positive thinking or visualising me being able to jump off a tall building and fly is ever going to make it happen. That’s why losing weight or stopping smoking using willpower alone is very difficult. Some people mistake realism for negativity. Yes it can be, if it’s ‘unrealistic realism’ or if it’s just placing unnecessary obstacles in your way. But identifying real obstacles or difficulties you are going to face and tackling those effectively is positive. It shows your determination to achieve your goals and in my experience this is a far more effective way of making changes and getting where you want to be. And if that means you need some help then ask for it.
So should we change our approaches to our sporting teams? Of course not – it would take all the fun out of whipping the Aussies by an innings and 78 runs. And after all, the Rugby World Cup is just around the corner where Australia are ranked third in the world, making them more likely to win than England, who are fourth. (See what I’ve already started to do there?) So let’s see if favourite status fails them again. Perhaps they can spend the extra few weeks of not having The Ashes to worry about to come up with a reasonable justification for their usual low population argument when they consider the teams ranked 1 and 2 have significantly fewer people. (Australia – 24 million New Zealand – 4.6 million Ireland – 5 million). I’m just saying ……. we love you really but you’ll never get me to admit it.