Laurie Axtens - Call of the Loon

More than strength, intellect, cunning, psychological disintegration or even simple cheating, it is a players sense of balance which provides them with the winning edge. It is this mental and physical ability to stay in the game and on their feet no matter what is thrown at them that sets the best players apart. Good players can get away the pass or the kick even when theyre being swung around by the arm. They can cope with patently wrong decisions because they have faith that what comes around goes around. They believe, quite rightly I think, that the dynamic equilibrium of the physical world will be restored... wrong decisions are regularly made and granted that you dont actually alienate the referee, things will balance out eventually.

Despite the essential nature of mental and physical balance very few coaches incorporate balancing techniques into their training, relying instead on an individuals native balance to get them through. This is an unfortunate oversight because there are a host of balancing and strengthening yoga postures which would be popular among excessively competitive young players. The tree pose is tricky, particularly if you ask them to hold it for minutes on end.

Furthermore, some coaches and parents spend their time undermining peoples native sense of proportion; building games up into life-and-death encounters. Over-stating the importance of the game to such a degree that the violent outcome is virtually inevitable.

Our mental sense of balance is based on a sense of proportion. Retaliation, though not acceptable, is understandable. I can understand a punch for a punch, but head-butting someone for calling your family names? That kind of escalation can only bring you undone, as Zinedine Zidane found out last month when he was sent off and France consequently lost the final of the World Cup.

Escalating a conflict is the road to ruin. It destroys your reputation or at least makes it very difficult for your PR spin doctors to make you smell any good. There are plenty of one time sporting heroes who have lost their credibility because of this.

Similarly, whole nations can lose their grip on reality, lose their balance, and become world pariahs. Israel, for example, are busy bombing Lebanon back to the stone age and killing hundreds of innocents because theyve had a couple of soldiers kidnapped and have had antiquated missiles fired into their townships. The life-for-a-life, eye-for-an-eye ledger is so weighted against them now that what international support they had is fast draining away.

Plenty of wrong decisions have been made and continue to be made. But Im going to have faith that balance will prevail and that the insanity will stop soon.


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