Monday, August 18, 2008

A chink in the armour

I'm as proud as any S'porean (apart from the regular gripey malcontents on STI) about our paddlers' team silver at the Olympics. The team did well enough to demolish its opponents in its group, and fought tooth and nail in the semis, but despite its steamrolling success it didn't pick up enough momentum to beat the last opponent, China, in the finals.

I realise to ask for a gold would appear ungrateful, but I am playing a game of "what if?". Could Li, Wang and Feng have taken Zhang, Guo and the other Wang? It may have been difficult, but not impossible since all are top-ranked competitors in the sport. So it isn't in capability that our team faced a disadvantage.

No, what worked against us was having too much respect for the opponent, both in its top seeding and in its partisan home support. This really was China's party, and we tiny upstarts weren't in any position to make them cry if we wanted to. And we didn't want to, anyway; it wasn't in the unwritten 'script'. Perhaps in a more neutral country we wouldn't have been so overawed.

That's one mental block our athletes have yet to work around. We tend to play for what SHOULD be, not what MIGHT be. Our nation can be embarassingly audacious in many respects, but not yet in the sporting arena.

To add another two cents, here's an observation from an armchair critic about our silver medallists: They give away too much about their emotional state in their body language at the table. There's annoyance, frustration and resignation written as clear as day on their faces and postures. While it looks like great passion and drama for a television audience, it's also a dead giveaway to their opponents as to who has the upper hand. They may play excellent ping-pong but horrible poker.

The key to a winning game is in maintaining composure under pressure. An upright stance and a cool face even when losing reflects attitude and control. It can be difficult to master, emo beings that we are, but it pays dividends. "If you're putting up an act for others to see, you can end up fooling yourself too," according to tennis player, Kay Kay Magi. And that bit of self-deception could be just the thing to turn a match around.

And it doesn't even have to apply in just sport.

*Er... no pun intended in the title. Honest.

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