Sunday 25th September 2011.
I’m in the car, a bit gutted that I’m not watching the TV, as it’s Scotland v Argentina in a pool match in the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Now, I’m neither a Scottish or Argentina fan but both teams are in my team’s group, so it has some relevance, and despite the feeling not being reciprocated to England by most Scots, I’d actually like to see, or in this case hear, as I’m listening to the radio, our neighbours win.
It’s heaving down with rain and both sides know that the losing team are likely to be heading for the exit in this year’s tournament. It does not make for fast free flowing rugby and so the pattern of the match followed. However, during the second half Scotland started to get a little control as the match went on. When the Scottish fly-half slotted a drop goal to make the score 12-6 to Scotland with 10 minutes to go, the match looked over. Gavin Hastings, former Scotland captain declared that he still had concerns. Brian Moore, the former English hooker who doesn’t have to try hard to get under our Celtic neighbours noses declared “It’s over. Don’t worry, Argentina have gone. Scotland has this in the bag.”
You don’t need to be a detective to have worked out what happened next. For the first time in the match Argentina not only threatened the Scottish line, but they managed to cross it. Now just a solitary point behind, an improbable conversion was successful and Scotland lost. With it their hopes of progressing had all but gone.
Later in the day, I get the chance to watch some cricket – a t20 match between England and the West Indies. England were unbeaten all summer. They have taken on India, Sri Lanka and now the West Indies. They have played Test Matches, 50 over matches and 20 over matches. They did not lose one, and have taken the top position in the Test rankings. It is the final match of the summer against a weak looking and supposedly morale sapped West Indies team. West Indies bat first and England are superb with the ball and in the field. They restrict them to just 113, with spectacular catching, run-outs and razor sharp fielding.
At the interval, the pundits, all former Internationals are eulogising over England, their players, professionalism and performance. At the same time they are distraught about the state of West Indies cricket “I’m afraid the days of West Indies dominance here are long gone” says Michael Atherton. When pushed on the events to unfold in the second half of the match David “Bumble” Lloyd offers “I don’t give them a price”. Really? “They’ve no chance”.
West Indies bowled England out for 88, winning by 25 runs. Not even close.
Next up, (It was a good day for watching some sport for me!), was what was becoming a regular late night fixture with Golf’s Fed Ex Play-Offs. They are playing for about $5 million for the winner and $5 million dollars bonus for the player with the most points over the 4 play-off events.
With 7 holes to go, and seemingly little control of the ball tee to green also lacking inspiration Luke Donald (World number 1) who had perhaps half a dozen players ahead of him and 5 shots off the lead, missed a green for the umpteenth time in a row, managed to get up and down in two for his par, but again had failed to make any headway towards the leaders. He needed to finish second to clinch the $5 million bonus pool. Ewen Murray, Sky Sports’ vastly experienced, much respected commentator remarked “You have to think that’s it for Luke’s chances”.
After 3 birdies in the final 3 holes, and his adversaries spilling a shot here and there he posted a 7 under total to be shot at. Bill Haas came in at 8 under so Luke could not win outright, but the bonus pool was still up for grabs. Hunter Mahan had a 4 foot putt on the last to tie Bill Haas and remain joint leader. Should he miss, he drops to joint second and Donald has his whopping bonus pool. This does not end as you might imagine. Mahan made the putt under tremendous pressure. Donald fell agonisingly short by just one stroke. However on another day we would have done enough from a seemingly impossible position to take the Fed Ex Trophy and with it the colossal spoils.
So, to the much repeated and blatantly obvious point being spelt out above. Never give up. No matter how unlikely a victory there is always a chance. If you don’t continue to give it your best shot you will never know what might have happened. All the above examples show what can be done by perseverance, grit and a never say die attitude. It might not always work out, but you have to give it a go to give yourself that chance. More improbable victories than the ones above happen all the time. I’m sure you have been involved in some on both sides of the coin. I’ve seen games won from 10-3 down PAR, and matches won from traditional scoring 2-0 and 8-0 down.
A comment made to me by Jenny Tranfield, former top 10 player, and perhaps not the flashest player, but certainly one of the grittiest has always stuck “You have got to find a way to win, or you might as well go home.” Even when all seems lost you must try to do something to change the match, or what are you doing there? You could just shake hands and save everybody the time.
Another thing to consider is the learning that occurs whilst playing flat out, trying your damndest to win. If you’ve stopped giving your best, you won’t learn anything about yourself, your game or your opponent. The final throws when you are severely fatigued are also the most important in terms of developing endurance and mental toughness.
Rudyard Kipling puts the attitude onto paper in a most lucid way.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
Excerpt from “If”
So, I hope you haven’t learnt anything really new there, but I hope it has reinforced a point or two for you.
Now though to the real point of this article.
What’s more important than Never Giving UP? Never letting anyone back in when you have them down.
Whilst you sometimes see people giving up from positions where they might win and as we’ve just seen this is a definite no-no, you more often see players/teams just take their foot off the pedal enough just to give the slightest chink of light to their opponents. How often have you felt out of a match, “How do I win a rally against this guy?” and then suddenly there are a couple of poor shot selections from your opponent. A shot or two to the front too early perhaps? A tin and a chance for an easy put away. How does that make you feel? It gives you energy, it gives you belief. It gives you the strength to mount one last stand. Never give this last hope to your opponent.
Whilst these experienced commentators are not in the battle themselves and they should know better, if they can make the mistake of writing off sportsmen/women in strife, then it is easy to see how when tired, that amateurs, or even professionals can make the same mistake. That they think the job is done. Subconsciously the focus goes just a fraction. This is your dead and buried opponent’s lifeline.
So I urge you to a, Never give up, but b, the make absolutely sure that when you have your opponent on the ropes that you do nothing to encourage them. No change of game plan, no showboating, no change of attitude and certainly no relaxing or the flow of the match could take a quick, irreversible twist. Just keep doing exactly what has got your opponent on the floor in the first place and keep squeezing the life out of the match until it is dead and buried.