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School of sport: Hard to handle

BY TIM MIDDLETON

MAC Davis – does that name ring a bell? For many readers, it will not but he was a country and Western singer who had a Number One hit single in 1972, the title of which was Baby, Don’t get Hooked On Me. While he never achieved such heights again, many other readers might well know another of his songs entitled It’s Hard To Be Humble. Davis might not have gained further success as a singer but he wrote a number of songs that brought Elvis Presley great success, including In The Ghetto and Don’t Cry Daddy. While Mac Davis may not have enjoyed the success that other singers have done, he did do better in handling the success that came his way. Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Whitehouse, all knew how to be successful but not how to handle it.

Youngsters at our schools in their own way are looking for and finding success, whether it be by playing for the school First team, Provincial or National teams, or being made a captain or gaining Colours. Thereafter, when they continue with their sport they may well meet with success, building on the foundation laid at school. We will have done our job if that happens. However, we will not have done our job if we have not prepared them in advance to know how to handle the success.

The obvious danger to adults, but even more so to less mature youngsters, is that when success comes they think they have made it, that they are somehow more important; they become conceited, arrogant, lazy, content with the one level. They love all the attention and believe all the praise that comes with success to the extent that they need it. They become distracted by all that comes with success. What can we do to ensure they can handle success successfully?

The first thing a coach must teach his players is that they must be extremely grateful for any success that may come their way. They must quickly understand and appreciate that success is a privilege that only a very few will enjoy; there is only one winner but thousands of people who do not succeed. Indeed, one person’s success comes at the price of failure for all those others. Yes, success is a reward for our efforts and talents but we must be so grateful to have the opportunity of which others have only dreamed.

We must exhort them to be totally mindful of what it took for them to get there in the first place, so that they continue with the same. They need to learn from winning as much as from losing, by reflecting why it was they succeeded. Success does not define people as individuals or give them worth and equally there are so many other things that may matter more than simply doing well in one area of life. They must learn to accept criticism as much as praise. They must be mindful that it was not them on their own that got them there – they probably had family (even if it was only their genes), friends (real friends, not hangers-on) and coaches all way through, all playing a part.

Then we must ensure they be increasingly careful, recognising what dangers lie ahead. It can just as easily slip away from them because many others are determined to have what they have. Just as a player must not over-celebrate, even after the small success of scoring a goal or taking a wicket, as the very next minute the opposition can score a goal themselves or blast the next ball for six, so he must be careful not to lose focus. Success one day can so easily become failure the next.

Above all, we must ensure they understand and develop the quality of humility. The all-conquering All Blacks had the mantra that a better person makes a better player; a better player often makes a worse person. Success must not go to our heads; we must use our heads to prevent that from happening.

Mac Davis recognised that, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way… To know me is to love me; I must be a hell of a man. Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, But I’m doing the best that I can”. It is indeed hard to be successful and the sooner we prepare our youngsters for that potential outcome the better. Of course, before we try to do all this, we as coaches and parents need to know how to handle success ourselves. We must not let our ‘babies’ get hooked on success, because, as the song goes, it will “just use you” and then leave you “in the ghetto”. Then it will be too late to say “Daddy, don’t cry”. The one area where we need to succeed is in being humble.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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