Book excerpts — Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New understanding of Sport

Senior journalist Binoo K. John's book Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New understanding of Sport has been released. Excerpted with permission from the author.


Parenting, Nationalism and the Creation of Champions

There are many ways to win in sport and many theories to back them. Yet there is no definitive understanding of what exactly makes a champion. Or for that matter, why a much-heralded potential champion eventually never became a topper in his sport. Theories abound, and each coach and many scientists have their own theories of success and failure. Some advocate continuous strenuous practice. Others sit back and prefer to watch genes play their role in moulding a champion. Some others say winning is all in the mind and tutor their wards like Fagin trained pickpockets in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

Coaches the world over have produced champions using varying strategies. There is no single strategy that is convincing enough. That could be because we still do not have any clue why a player who was spotted quite early in life, practised well, was focused and devoted to the sport, and yet burnt out like a flickering candle in the wind. To uncoil this mystery, we perhaps need to first understand the making of a champion. The theories that have been studied in detail in the last three decades are genetic factors, sheer ambition inculcated from childhood, sweat-shop theories, ‘accumulative advantages’, place of birth and growing up, theories of practice and endurance, the study of muscle fibre and lung power and so forth.

The primary factor in the creation of champions is the role of parents, and then comes the role of strenuous practice, locating the player in an environment that drives him or her to stretch limits, and to a limited extent, the head-start of a good physique that genes offer . All other theories have to follow these factors. The early planning and parental push have been the most elemental in creating champions. In such cases, parents mostly use their children to recreate and accomplish through them the shattered dreams of their own youth. The child becomes the parent redux.


The Coach, His Ambition, His Follies and His Champion

In sport, there will be champions and superstars. And in the champion’s shadow can always be found a coach, sometimes brash, often self-effacing, but always helping his ward climb his personal Everest.

Personal coaches must become part of the champion’s life and ambition. Strategies to become a world champion cannot be drawn up over a cup of tea. It is a tiring procedure full of wrong moves. That is why a coach needs to be at the side of the player and live in close proximity with his protégé. The coach is not a visiting professor who makes periodic visits to gauge the progress of his students left alone for weeks to do assignments. The personal coach is a permanent prop that offers solace, defends shortcomings, throws light on the dark recesses of deficiency of the opponent, manufactures energy drinks (Agassi’s coach), searches for cures for various ailments in far-off lands, puts a hand around his champion after a last-gasp loss, and in the hour of triumph sits back and watches his boy hold the trophy as the streamers fall all around him. He is a mother.

Senior journalist Binoo K. John's book Top Game: Winning, Losing and a New understanding of Sport (Speaking Tiger, Rs 499, pages 260) has been released. Excerpted with permission from the author.

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