By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published October 21, 2015, in the Jamaica Observer
THERE is no greater feeling than triumph. Accomplishing a goal against unspeakable odds can feel surreal, enchanting and even spiritual. The feeling when you hit that last-second shot in the deciding game to win the championship, or when you gallop and lunge to nip your opponent at the line for gold and glory can be addictive and intoxicating. It’s a feeling sportsmen and sportswomen yen to experience and hope to duplicate multiple times during their careers.
In the world of work, nailing that contract or presentation, or pulling the proverbial ‘rabbit out of the hat’ on a project, brings similar sentiments and Muhammad Ali chants of “I must be the greatest.” On the other hand, failing to surmount these Herculean feats often brings a sense of sadness and is equated to mental weakness by others. And, for some individuals, doing unimaginable feats brings no sense of accomplishment or joy; ironically, only pain and numbness.
For instance, I read recently of the well-documented travails of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, an English cricketer, whose inspiring performances aided England in wrestling the Ashes away from the dominant Australians during the 2005 season. Flintoff, like countless other sportsmen, sportswomen, and regular Joes, suffers from depression. In an article in the Daily Mail, he spoke of his spellbinding performances; for example, during the 2007 World Cup, where he produced mystical deliveries that sent batsmen bundled to the pavilion, and bewildered at their demise. However, during those moments, like countless others, Flintoff claimed he was benumbed due to depression.
As he stated, “I took wickets, and everybody was celebrating around me, and I just felt nothing, absolutely nothing. I thought I was ill. I went to the team doctor. I had no idea what was wrong. I know now. I have seen experts about it and it was a relief to be told what it was.”
In recent times, we have discovered that several sportsmen and women have had their careers negatively affected based on how they manage the highs and lows of sports, or their personal lives. Of late in sporting disciplines, sports psychologists are valued equally with coaches, physical trainers, physiotherapists, and doctors. Some have even argued that the psychologists are more critical than all the other staff complement since, in their view, 80 per cent of sporting performance is mental.
Promising cricketers like Marcus Trescothick, Mike Yardy and Jonathan Trott have all taken temporary or permanent breaks from the game of cricket due to stress-related illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. Similarly, we have heard rumours of West Indian cricketers taking temporary breaks in the past due to alleged stress-related illnesses: Richie Richardson, Carl Hooper, Kieran Powell, and Darren Bravo are of note; albeit, we have no proof.
Nevertheless, these ills are not unique to cricket or to the English. Just recently, Lamar Odom, former NBA sixth man of the year and former Los Angeles Laker, was found unconscious in a brothel after allegedly using alcohol, hard drugs, and sexual herbal stimulants. The prognosis for his full recovery looked tenebrous; however, with him allegedly now speaking and breathing on his own, we are hopeful. Odom, a fan and player favourite, has reportedly suffered from intense depression over the years, and especially in recent months with the passing of his two closest friends in June, and the impending divorce from his wife, Khloe Kardashian, which is still before the courts.
Two years ago, his wife Khloe Kardashian declared: “Lamar, he is a very depressed person, which is sad but understandable for everything he’s been through in his life. And I do love Lamar with every ounce of who I am, but it’s really scary when someone’s in such a deep lull and you know they’re relying on you to get them out and you’re trying, and you’re trying, and you’re trying, and nothing’s really working.”
We hope Lamar recovers fully and escapes his lulls. Unfortunately, there is little hope that West Indies cricket will rebound from its continuous losing, 20 years and counting.
In June 2002, during a Test match between England and Sri Lanka in Manchester, England, Flintoff claimed he took three Viagra tablets in order to put to bed tabloid accusations about his sexual performance by an ex-girlfriend. Interestingly, Flintoff suffered his sole run out in Test cricket the following day due to the after effects from the Viagra, which seemingly gave him dead legs. He remarked, “I didn’t realise how long they lasted. Trying to bat the next day in that state was not easy. I was run out, simply because I couldn’t move. I could only hop. It wasn’t worth it, either. Complete waste of time.”
This shows that players’ personal lives or mental states affect their sporting performance just as much as their physical fitness. I guess the same could be said for the average man and his performance on the job. Crucial, however, is how we manage these highs and lows.
Usain Bolt, though encircled with doubters of his fitness and ability to retain his World 100m and 200m titles, went to the 2015 World Championships in Beijing confident that he could repeat previous Herculean feats. In the semi-finals of the 100m, in almost catastrophic fashion, he slipped out of the blocks, recovered and qualified for the breathtaking final. Bolt shared that his coach, Glen Mills, in the temporary role of sports psychologist, gave him a pep talk before the finals that would have restored belief and alleviate any creeping doubt of his race readiness to eclipse Justin Gatlin and others for the title.
Bolt reported that Coach Mills said, “Listen to me. You are thinking about this thing too much. Just go out there and run your race. You are a champion. You know what it takes. You’ve been here before.”
Bolt stated that he affirmed to himself: “That’s right. I’ve been here so many times. I know what it takes to be a winner. I know exactly what to do.”
Sometimes in life, all you need is a pep talk and self-belief to move from the (dark) other side of life and sports, to triumph. Occasionally it requires more. Nevertheless, find triumph.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published October 21, 2015)