Watching Scotland play Wales on Saturday I reflected once again that some of the most important lessons in life can be learned on the games pitch. Considering the hype following the Autumn internationals and the considerable weight of expectation going into the first test in Cardiff, I can’t have been the only observer with their head in their hands wondering what went wrong? The truth is, ability tends to get you to the top, but it is character which keeps you there. A big part of having character is having the self-discipline to avoid complacency, resist temptation and understand that past success doesn’t guarantee future successes. At times, Scotland looked as though they were playing a man or two short and they had all the appearance of a team who had never met, let alone played together before. And yet, they will bounce back, because it demands character to perform as an athlete at this level. They will emerge from the tunnel on Sunday stronger than before and, I hope, with a surprise in store for us.
Personally, I can sympathise with Scotland’s plight. My sporting life has not exactly filled the trophy cabinet. I’ve been in the lead in sailing races only to fall out of the boat at the last mark and lose. I’ve been overtaken in running races by pupils who have not yet learnt to tie their shoe laces (and fathers with prams). My own wife has beaten me on every occasion that we have ever competed against each other. Indeed, the crowning achievement of my sporting success, a third place in the Under 12 shot-put at prep school, remains the only occasion when I have collected a sports trophy! There is no doubt for me sport is a deeply humbling experience. I haven’t required the character to stay at the top because I’ve never had the ability to get there in the first place. When I play sports I tend to lose, it often hurts and I get upset, and yet, I keep coming back for more...why?
Clearly it is not for the silverware. For me, and I hope it is for your children too, it is for the struggle to perfect a skill, the determined effort to get the next pass or tackle in, the camaraderie, the ups (and the downs), the slow dawning realisation that an aspect of the game that we have worked hard to master is gradually coming. It’s for the first net you score or run you get, the pat on the back from the coach when you’ve contributed well, the applause from your supporters on the sideline and the team huddle which buoys your spirits when the game goes the wrong way. In fact, there are myriad reasons, few of which depend upon winning.
And from all of this, we develop grit, build resilience and form our characters. From all of the trials and tribulations we get stronger and more able to cope with the ups and downs of life. Out of adversity good things come and we get stronger when we test ourselves.
I’ll leave you with a poem by an unknown author:
Looking back it seems to me
All the grief that had to be
Left me when the pain was o’er
Stronger than I was before.
John F Gilmour