HomeSportSchool of sport: Silence please

School of sport: Silence please


WE might all remember that dreaded moment! There we all were, sitting in the examination hall, nervously wondering what fate was awaiting us, when the invigilator announced, “Silence, please. Your examination starts now.” The silence that follows for a long time might appear suffocating. We may also have experienced a similar moment, this time sitting in a Library, eagerly wanting to communicate with our friend and being sternly reminded “Quiet, please”. We may often have wondered why we do have to be silent in a Library and in an examination hall; why must we not be quiet in the kitchen or the bathroom? The answer no doubt lies in the fact that being silent helps not simply ourselves concentrate on the task before us but also others. We are to be quiet so we focus.

Years ago, it was clearly noted in an international hockey match between South Africa and Wales played in front of a small crowd how the South African players never said a word, were utterly quiet throughout, while the Welsh players were heard continuously shouting out encouragement and instructions (“Through ball”). South Africa were comfortable winners yet they never said a word; they never needed to say a word. They did not need to congratulate their teammates or offer encouragement as each player was confident within themselves. They did not need to give instructions as they knew how each other played as well as their tactics. They did not moan at their teammates as they knew that everyone made mistakes, none intentionally, and each would cover each other’s mistakes. The coach did not need to pass on instructions from the side-lines as the players had been trained to think for themselves. The coach did not question the umpire’s decisions as he focussed on his own task of assessing how his team was performing and what tactics the opponents were employing. The silence was profoundly effective; it was golden!

If we stopped to think about it (in silence, please, in order to listen), we would realise that if we are shouting to our teammate where we want them to pass the ball, we are in fact telling the opponent where the ball is going, which defeats the whole purpose of surprise! If we are shouting at our teammates and haranguing them for their mistakes, we are only driving division within the team; every sportsman secretly (silently) delights when they hear opponents moaning, complaining, shouting, as they know the opponent is also fighting against themselves. If we are shouting at the referee for not doing his job, we are not doing our job. If we are shouting and talking all the time, we are wasting our valued, limited breath. Silence, please!

We have considered elsewhere how the two greatest cricket coaches, according to Trevor Bailey, the English cricketer and later broadcaster, were “sunshine and space” and it is interesting that someone else has wisely remarked that “Silence and smiles are two powerful tools.” Having considered elsewhere how smiling improves our game, so here we can see how silence also is a winner. Coach Bob Walsh has said that (attributing it to the way the highly-successful All Blacks rugby team operate) the “First stage of learning is silence; the second stage of learning is listening”.  We might recognise that ‘silent’ is an anagram of ’listen’; we need to be silent in order to listen. Listening is not simply about listening to words but to all signals and signs that may be being emitted.

Sporting fixtures are examinations; they are there for us to see what (or whether) we have learned anything during the practices. We are on our own. We need to concentrate hard to ensure we put into practice all the necessary points we have taken in during training. We are to consider carefully all the questions our opponents are asking of us and seek to come up with the correct solution. They are exams and should be conducted in silence. We do not have teachers at the side of the hall shouting out the answers to us in academic circles; we should not have coaches standing at the side of the pitch telling us the answers in sporting events. Silence please!

We would do well to remember, as one sage once said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” We do have two eyes and two ears and only one mouth, reminding us, as the old saying goes, that we should look and listen twice as much as we should speak. As Ronan Keating sings, “You say it best when you say nothing at all.” Coaches and players say it best when they say nothing at all. We would be a fool to do otherwise.

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

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