The year is 1999. You’re down 2 sets to love. And you’ve been totally outplayed in both of them, losing 1-6, 2-6. You’re staring down the barrel in the third set, serving at break point. To top it all off, you’re facing a 6’4” giant, in the finals of the French Open. The things that must be going on through your head – Embarrassment, humiliation maybe, a respectable defeat perhaps.
Fast-forward a couple of hours. There stands Andre Agassi, serving at match point in the fifth set against Andriy Medvedev. A point later, history is made when Agassi became only the fifth male tennis player to lift all four slam trophies. The major difference other than a rain delay might well be the immense reserves of mental toughness under those thinning hair.
In every sport, after a certain level, the battles tend to transcend physical barriers and revolve around that of the mind. There’s a quote that goes, “Once you’re physically capable of winning a gold medal, the rest is 90 percent mental.” And it makes perfect sense.
Let’s leave out of the equation a few extraordinarily (and extra terrestrially) skilled players like Lionel Messi, and consider the rest of the pack that have a more or less the similar skill set. Everyone’s got a good technique. Everyone’s got a left foot and a right foot and can head the ball. What sets them apart from the rest in a 90 minute duel would be their mental toughness, character and the confidence to believe that they can win.
Reggie Crist, a skier sums it up perfectly “It’s amazing how much of this is mental. Everybody’s in good shape. Everybody knows how to ski. Everybody has good equipment. When it really boils down to it, it’s who wants it the most and who’s the most confident.”
Confidence is an extremely important term for any individual. Cristiano Ronaldo in the world of soccer can at once be identified with the word confidence, or perhaps even bordering arrogance. Although his overly extroverted behavior on the field has bought him a lot of flak, it’s also something that’s responsible for him banging in another 40 plus goals this year.
Over to Fernando Torres now. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Unstoppable one season, appalling the next. From being the league’s most potent striker, people now see him as a benchmark for trolling. The pace, control, strength and dribbling ability, are all still there. The only factor missing would have to be that ten lettered word. Without it, and carrying the burden of a million taunts, Fernando Torres now seems reluctant to even shoot. Presently at least, it looks like people have moved on and even a few Liverpool fans are willing to spare the rod since they want to see the old Torres back and replace the current shadow that wears the Chelsea No.9.
Sport is cruel, make no mistake about it. In fact it’s littered with cases of the ‘almost’. There are those (be it individuals or teams) who’ve done it once or on the odd occasion. And then there are those who do it as a way of life. For instance, not a lot of us can rewind and remember that a certain Gaston Gaudio once won the French Open, being two sets down to Guillermo Coria in 2004. All because of the fact that he has gradually faded into oblivion ever since. However, someone like a David Nalbandian, who hasn’t won a slam yet, will be more remembered because of his consistency at the top. That’s the word in getting to. Consistency. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Over a period of time, people will forget you. It’s upto you to make sure you stay around long enough to leave your mark. Of course, there’s always a huge ingredient called luck that you need on your side, to become either a Paolo Maldini or a Martina Navratilova.
If there was one other attribute that is imperative along the long journey to success, that would have to be discipline. Prime example here could be the likes of Joey Barton. Closer home, we have the example of the talented, yet hot headed Vinod Kambli who threw away his career due to multiple controversies, while fellow childhood prodigy (we all know who), went on to attain the status of a demi god in our cricket crazy nation. And yes, things do not look good for Mario Balotelli.
At the end of it all one has to agree that it’s a world sick with competition and to be right up there with the best, skill alone will not do, and only a mixture of all the blah blah stated above will!
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