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Waistcoats and Wimbledon Wisdom


England playing in the World Cup is the only time I can get interested in football! My football watching is over now for another four years! Like the rest of the country(it seem!), this year, I’ve been impressed by Gareth Southgate, the waist-coated quiet-spoken England manager and his emphasis on the importance of psychological strategies for the success of his team.

Footballers, he suggests, have tended to concentrate on the physical and tactical skills of ‘getting the ball in the back of the net’. They have not always been very ready to recognise that their own emotions and attitudes need some attention if they are going to succeed in their game. Psychological techniques have been sought only by those with specific personal problems.'Softer’ psychological techniques have been seen by many players as irrelevant to their core business.

The footballers’ reluctance to take advantage of psychological insights, often reminds me of the many religious people who say who concentrate on skills from their own tradition rather than seeking spiritual wisdom wherever it's available. ‘If you want to know God, you just need to pray more and read your Bible.' they say. 'We Christians don’t need emotional self-awareness or ‘secular’ insights from psychology.’

Southgate and his team may be more open-minded! He has obviously been successful in encouraging his team players to look at things differently. They have learnt that psychological insights can offer a specific set of skills and practices that can be a help, not a hindrance to goal-scoring and success in taking penalties. Behind the scenes, the team psychologist, Pippa Grange, has made her mark as a person with appropriate skills in what she describes as the ‘laddish’ team environment.

I’ve also been enjoying watching Wimbledon. I love it. Maybe because, as the pundits so often say, tennis is also a game that needs to be played ‘in the head’. Listening to the pundits and the players themselves, it’s clear that they, too, have long recognised that there is so much more to success than physical strategies. They offer nuggets of psychological wisdom – so many of them applicable to the spiritual life.

Here are some of my favourites from this week:

Cherish the moment. Don’t take too much notice of the crowd. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. (Billie Jean King)

You have to stay within yourself. Otherwise you have no chance at all. (Boris Becker)

You just need to know when to pull back and when to go forward. (Billie Jean King)

You need to cover the ground but stay on balance. (John Lloyd)

I focus on the things I can control: practice, diet, attitude on the court, staying calm. (John Isner)

I remember the very first sermon I heard Mike preach. The title was: ‘It’s amazing what some people will do to get what they want.” Ever since then, we have used that sentence to each other when we come across examples of people who impress in their commitment to reach their goals. Sports people so often figure in those conversations.

As I’ve watched the football and tennis this week, I’ve wondered once again, whether I am willing to learn from sports people in their willingness to do whatever it takes – spiritual strategies of course - but also physical, mental, emotional and yes! psychological disciplines - to reach the goals I have set myself. It did not quite succeed for Southgate in Russia in 2018! But as women’s champion Serena Williams said this week: ‘It’s important to lose. I learn something every time. Just don’t do it too often!

Or as Solomon said, ‘They (righteous people) may fall seven times and rise again’. Proverbs 26:18


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