I was a competitive swimmer for eight years. For the most part I loved it, but I wasn’t very good at it because, while I liked training, I never had the Strong Desire to Win or Hate to Lose genes. However, I did over that time come to understand a little of the psychology of those who do.
One part of this that always interested me is how athletes mentally prepare. Occasionally, I would see someone before a race to take on a different look. They appeared serious, but calm. It usually meant they were determined underneath, with a strong faith in themselves and their ability. For this reason I usually avoided looking at my competitors before a race, as I never possessed such a ‘look’ and was afraid of seeing it in others I was racing against.
On Saturday night I watched the boxing fight between David Tua and Shane Cameron on TV in a bar. This is not something I would normally do, but I went to primary school with Shane and I am currently staying with my sister, who is a fan. The night did not go well as we watched our former schoolmate savagely punched and pounded to a pulp in 188 seconds.
It was tough to see, but I had the feeling it might go that way. It was to do with the way they looked prior. Walking out to the ring David had the look like nothing could affect him, with eyes focused on something ahead. Shane on the other hand seemed not to have shielded himself off from the enthusiasms of the crowd, the hype, the moment. He smiled to the crowd, and then remembered he had to be serious and was, for a moment, until he looked up and smiled again. The match was decided from the outset.
Putting aside the my criticisms of the sport of boxing (there are many) and professional sport in general, that night just reminded me of the faith and determination needed to do something that the rest of us fear or think of as just being a plain stupid thing to do.