LUCKY ROUTINE

Have you been watching the football?

I’ve watched some of the action though I’ve not been glued to each and every second of it, work and all that, and I’ve enjoyed what’s been taking place for the most part.

Now this post isn’t going to be about the clear superiority of rugby to football, which I think has been yet again proved due to the antics of so many of the players as they either roll around on the floor as if someone has shot them in the soul or they square up to the referee in a gang as they scream their opinions on any all aspects of his decisions. No, this time, I was reminded of the various little rituals and superstitions that players engage in all around the world when they play.

Why are superstitions so powerful?

If you’ve watched England play rugby over the last decade, you’d have seen some pretty decent goal kicking from Owen Farrell and before him, Jonny Wilkinson. Before that, Neil Jenkins of Wales was metronomic in his accumulation of points. And each of them had a very specific ritual they used before each and every kick as a way to do everything they could to maximize the chances of the ball sailing between the posts.

When I played, I did the same.

I’d banged over a penalty from inside my own half when playing for the school and because it went over, I did all I could to each time from then on, to copy what I’d done. Now I accept that there are things that will improve the chance of success which come from the science of what I was doing. Optimal angle of approach, correct angle of the ball on the tee, contact with the stitches rather than flat on the panel of the ball. All of these things would have been a part of what I did but I’m not sure that making sure I took three breaths before starting the run up or the particular way I swayed before that, would have had that much impact.

Never the less, each time from then on, the same routine was plugged in and off I went. I wasn’t perfect as a goal kicker but I wasn’t too shabby either, and that success came from the practice I put in but also in the fact that I had my superstitions with me. Following the same routine which had worked on that one occasion would give positive results, obviously. Each game I played, I clutched at my lucky process, just like Dumbo and his feather, to make the odds lean in my favour but just like Dumbo, the ability was inside me all along but I needed that superstition.

People all over the world have lucky objects or rituals that help them through their days. It’s been the same through the far reaches of time. We’ve tried to understand what goes on around us and do all we can to weight the dice in our favour. It worked once so if we repeat what we did when we were successful, maybe it was that thing that was responsible for the positive result. If you were successful the second time, that just reinforces the idea and from then on you can’t think of a time before the process.

Now civilisations all through time have dealt in the same things.

How many religions are there in the world? They can’t all be right so that leaves superstition. Someone once suggested a way of behaving that would bring positive results, a particular ritual to follow, and it stuck. Animal sacrifices. Stone formations. Dancing for rain. All of these things came about as ways to influence the world in your favour, to show that you were doing the right things and the more people that did them and good things happened, the stronger the belief.

Superstitions are there to allow us a feeling of having even the slightest sliver of control over the uncontrollable. They go beyond all of the effort and work that may have gone into the preparation for a specific event to act as the added bonus to what you’ve done. You’ve explored all options you had available so if things don’t work out, there’s not a great deal more you could have done.

So everyone out there, cling tightly to your superstitions to help you feel positive but never let them overshadow the true power that we all have inside us to really achieve greatness, it never came from the lucky rabbit’s foot at all.

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ALWAYS WATCHING

Do you feel as if there are always people watching you?

Not in a raging paranoia, tin foil hat wearing kind of way, but rather just everyday normal life. That from the second you set foot outside your front door, all the way through almost every single step along the way, that from somewhere, anywhere, there are eyes watching.

It has been suggested that the UK is the most watched country in the world, with enough cameras keeping tabs on everyone and everything for one per eleven members of the population. The more you think about it, the more chance there is for it to niggle at the back of your mind.

But we like to watch other people don’t we?

We all enjoy indulging in a little gossip from time to time but over the last twenty years or so, our watching of others has exploded.

The actions of the public are now a major element of our entertainment diet in the form of reality shows of any and all shapes. What would Christmas be without The X Factor? Hasn’t Big Brother gone well past it’s best before date? Isn’t Gogglebox a programme about watching people watching TV?

We know that we have to be aware of the eyes watching us. We know that speed cameras are out there to catch drivers going over the speed limit. We’re familiar with cameras watching over our streets in an attempt to minimise antisocial behaviour and as such, we behave accordingly.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to pass comment on the relative rights and wrongs of such things, rather I’m looking at the behaviour we all adopt because of these eyes watching us.

How many times have you seen examples of drivers slamming the brakes on as they approach a speed camera, only to speed back up once they’re out of the eye line of the lens?

Every day there are examples where we all push the boundaries of what is allowed or acceptable. The problems that the cameras are there to reduce evolve and move in new directions. So what happens when you break the rules and win?

The rules mark out the field of play for us all. We all have to exist within this framework to allow the society as a whole to flourish, each of us doing our bit to make sure that the whole is preserved. In the most basic sense, the strong take on more burden and the weak are assisted, while everyone else in the middle does they’re fair share.

But we all know the darkness inherent in the system, in any number of stories we’re familiar with and out there in the real world. Corruption so outcomes no longer show equity. Where parts of a population are seen as special and others are not. The first person to nudge beyond and colour outside the lines without there being any negative outcomes, was the first person who understood that cheats do prosper.

If you cheat and get caught, you are a cheat or a criminal, viewed poorly for cheating. If you cheat and no one sees it, your success is seen as being the result of shrewd thinking, clever actions.

So you cheat again.

And again.

The protagonist in stories is readily seen as being the righteous one, the one who is honest and true, but the antagonist is so easily the moustache twirling, black hearted monster with nothing but the worst planned.

So why cheat if it dooms you to ‘the dark side’?

It’s too simple to just paint people as good or bad. Everyone who cheated and won saw this as showing that they were smart enough to get around the system. Captain Kirk had his Kobayashi Maru and was commended for it. We see on football / soccer pitches all over the world, examples of players feigning injury, or simulating fouls to gain advantage and very often, those who are commentating laud them for it.

“He was very clever there, allowing himself to be knocked off the ball like that.”

Gone are the full blooded contests where physical contact was part and parcel of the game only to leave behind players willing to roll on the floor as if they’d been hit by a sniper in the stands at the merest hint of a challenge for the ball. All those eyes watching on see this as being the way to advance, the way to succeed. If you do this when you play, you’ll get a positive outcome as well, the knowing wink says as the benefits are reaped.

In a round about way, I’m looking at the importance of the role model. That person we watch and admire for what they do. They become our heroes very easily and carry the mantle of example wherever they go. We’ve all had one in our lives. It may have been a parent, a sibling, a famous sports star, even a politician, but we all looked at that person with an almost reverential awe. They were the best. They were what we wanted to be like. We yearned to be just like them and we did what we could to reach that goal.

Worryingly, what would happen if the role model was a bad guy?

Would the effect be to create hoardes of little beasts?

I doubt it but it’s important that we all recognise that we could, in some way, represent the role model for another and make sure we’re doing the best we can. There will always be eyes watching and teaching a poor message could have long term consequences.

I watched a kids game of football / soccer yesterday while I sat in a café waiting for Jo. It looked like a bunch of under elevens. Ish. They were passing and dribbling for all they were worth and there were good challenges going in for the tackles, all in all, making me feel oddly encouraged.

And then it happened.

A player from one team dribbled forwards, a little way out from goal, and was surrounded by three players from the opposition. In a flash, his space was gone and he was out of passing options. He couldn’t shoot and there appeared to be no way out. Until the first foot from an opposing player approached the ball. The attacking player saw his chance and performed a reasonable attempt of the flourishing swan dive we see all too regularly on TV. The surrounding lads checked for a split second, not really sure of themselves, and the referee blew for the foul.

I didn’t really see any contact but it could only have been minimal, yet he’d been given the free kick, getting him out of trouble. He hadn’t been knocked to the ground, he’d just collapsed, yet he’d gained an advantage. He was also the one to score from the resulting free kick.

Cheats never prosper is a lie but we all have to do our part to stand up as the role models people may see us as to make sure that the idea of going outside the rules doesn’t come into play but if you do, you aren’t congratulated for it.

MY TEAM’S BETTER THAN YOURS

I’m not sure if you know this about me but I’m a massive fan of a great many sports.

As I grew up I was involved with so many games and sports. I can remember one particular week at school, at the bridge between the summer and winter seasons, where I played in a cricket match on the Monday, a basketball match on the Tuesday, county rugby training on the Wednesday, a football match on the Thursday and a cricket coaching session on the Friday. Now this wasn’t every week after school but it gives you an idea what I was getting up to. I’ve played rugby and cricket at different clubs and, despite the various injuries, I’ve had a blast.

When I started writing The Circle of Fire, a love of sports was something that I wanted my main character to have. I’d regularly heard, as no doubt so many of us did, that taking part in sports was a wonderful way to help build character and teach all manner of life lessons which would have a positive impact on later life. In short, sport was a massive plus to anyone’s life.

Now we’ll leave the sport there for the time being.

This week, the UK will be voting in a referendum centred on membership of the EU. We all have the chance to give our opinion on the topic of whether or not we remain a part of the European collective and for weeks we’ve been hearing from any and every possible source the potential pros and cons. In the US, all the attention is on who is going to be running for president and the media is going nuts with opinion and speculation aplenty. All of the time we’re all being bombarded with messages of negativity for each and every position, with an honest assessment of the facts being avoided in preference to scaremongering.

We’re being told that ‘THEY’ are out to get us. We’re being threatened by a shadowy figure of imagination that has the destruction of everything we hold dear as its sole goal. All of the time, we all hear that we need to be separated from everyone else to preserve what we have and stop those out to take it from us having their way. Amidst all of this, the European Football Championships are taking place in France and every day we’re treated to images of violent clashes between fans from different nations all doing their best to impose their belief that their country is the best. In addition, the world is preparing for the Olympics in Brazil, where again, the nations of Earth will pit their best athletes against each other in pursuit of the prize.

Despite teaching people about the discipline and teamwork that we all recognise as being virtues, does sport also teach us, subconsciously, that our team is better than all others and those who’re ridiculous enough to think otherwise need to be ‘corrected’?

From international sport downwards, there are ever decreasing layers of separation which can act as barriers between us. In rugby terms, I’m a Wales fan but I’ll happily shout for the British and Irish Lions regardless of the number of Welsh players selected. The same could be said from the Wales team. As an Ospreys fan, it makes no difference if there are any of those players selected. The players from any other club could be seen as the ‘enemy’ week in week out but they’re all a part of the same group in the red of Wales. The further down you go, to region, then senior club, then junior club, there are walls being raised which separate us all and pit us all against one another.

Sports now can act as a substitution for warfare. Our forces are pitted against those of rival nations, regions, towns, all in the hope of conquering the enemy as proof of their, and by extension our, superiority. The violence which can be seen around the football in France is where the more primitive aspects of our species spill over and is found around so many sports around the world.

So should sport be moth-balled to allow the human race to grow away from the more barbaric elements of combat?

No. We all need to see the importance of what sports can give the human race but, in much larger terms, we need to all see that separation and walls will do nothing but destroy us. We all need to come together as a race of people. We’re all humans. The media drives a narrative of fear because that’s what sells, the sensationalism. Religions are all fighting each other about which is the right one and nations are being pitted against nations because the powerful deem it to be right.

This world is filled with people who, for the longest time, have been separated by so many things but we’re all just people. Every single one of us is the same and as we’ve grown as a species, so many of the walls which have kept us apart have already been torn down but it does appear that those that remain are being lauded and people are trying to rebuild those which have fallen.

We all need to be working together to improve the world not dividing it up. We need to put aside our collective differences and understand what we all have which is the same. We need to understand and believe, as a race, as many true things and as few false things as possible and divisions and conflict need to be cast aside.

But we should always remember that sport doesn’t have to be the start of bad things. I pointed out earlier that I could shout for the Lions without there being any Wales players present so shouldn’t we all be able to recognise the importance of the game as being just that. Just remember that testing ourselves as individuals and groups is now no longer a metaphor for warfare.