Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ready, Steady, GOOOOOOO! 3/25/12

The selection of teams during games lessons probably ranks amongst the most humiliating experiences of anyone’s school life.

In Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend, not once was I ever chosen to be a captain and do my own picking; no, I was always among the last four – not the bottom of the barrel but the dregs under the barrel - and praying that I would never be last and have to witness the disappointment on the faces of the golden nuggets who had been snapped up first.

They were Susan, Alison, Mandy, Caroline – the girls who smoked in the toilets during break and mitched off lessons when the Radio 1 Road Show came to town. How they ran out of the school gates when news of Tony Blackburn’s arrival spread.

But their naughtiness counted for nothing when it came to the last double lesson on Friday afternoon, when teams were chosen and hearts broken.

It had nothing to do with how good you were at sport. I was a very fast runner and a pretty good hurdler, too. I wasn’t too bad at the long and high jumps, and I also remember scoring three goals during one hockey match and thinking that surely this would be enough to get me cherry picked first next time.

But not a bit of it.

I remember Mrs Davies saying to me, after my glorious hockey triumph: “You’re too competitive”. I was very competitive; I still am - but to me it has always been a virtue. I’m not saying that I missed my chances at the Olympics, but the only day I’ll hide my light under a bushel is when I’m six feet under – and even then, I wouldn’t count on it.

Was it a lack of competitive spirit that gave the Welsh rugby team their third Grand Slam in eight years?

Is it a lack of belief that has taken Cardiff City to both the FA and Carling Cup finals?

Is it reticence that is driving Swansea City up the Premiership when everyone predicted they would be back down in the Championship at the end of the season? Of course not.

It is competitiveness of the highest order that lies at the heart of each of these team’s successes and, at the helm, managers and coaches who know how to harness that competitiveness in something that we often lose sight of – team spirit.

Apart from Craig Bellamy, I couldn’t name one player who has played for Cardiff City, but I follow the team’s progress and still cried when they lost the Carling Cup penalty shoot-out.

I can’t name even one player in Swansea City but rejoiced when they beat Manchester City.

I can name all of the Welsh squad but think of them as an extraordinary collective whose closeness as a team is one of the keys to their success.

Being a team player is tough.

While you bring your individual skills to the table, you also have to know how to use those skills in order to best bring out the skills of others.

You have to know when to pass the ball – literally and metaphorically – and you have to be there for each other on the bad days as well as the good.

I was in New Zealand when Wales went out to France in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. When Sam Warburton was sent off, the stadium went silent; at the end of the game, we left like one massive funeral procession, our hopes and dreams already a distant memory.

The next day, I happened to be in the same bar as several members of the team, who turned up to watch the All Blacks/Australia semi-final. They were cheered when they entered and enjoyed celebrity status as fans gathered round to have their pictures taken.

They were dignified in defeat, humble in the limelight, and they were undoubtedly the team of the tournament. It felt good to be Welsh.

It still does. These are incredible times for Welsh sport and, in particular, Welsh teams. We know that young people hero worship sports personalities and now they have three teams to look to for inspiration.

Each one is a great symbol of hard work, dedication, self-belief and, in aiming to be the best, they show the importance and true meaning of competitive spirit: great team work.

During the two and a half years I spent in LA, I witnessed at first hand such a positive attitude among the people I met. They were undoubtedly competitive, in a town in which so many are competing for the ultimate accolade of living the Hollywood dream.

To me, if you don’t aim high, you’ll never know how high you can reach, yet back in Cardiff, I am constantly reminded of the adage with which I was brought up when growing up in Wales: Never hang your hat higher than you can reach.

Thankfully, and goodness knows how, I managed, and continue to manage to ignore it and, for me, I will always not just hang but throw my hat as high as I can, always in the belief that I will be able to leap to catch it even before it begins to fall.

You can never be too competitive.

Finally, in Wales, our sports teams seem to have woken up to that.

Now, they just need to spread the message to everyone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment