The elite athlete doesn’t understand what it means to “give chance”. It is a straightforward pairing of two simple words, albeit grammatically incorrect. It is often said in jest, one that carries no real meaning most of the time. Then why say it at all?
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To the elite athlete, the only way to play a sport is to put maximum effort into the game. You can’t blame them; that’s the way they learned to play and excel at the sport, and it is that very same mindset that propels them to the upper echelons of their sport. There is, and should be, absolutely no shame in giving 100% to the cause. The elite athlete will understand that, and it is their way of showing respect to their opponents.
Take a step into the amateur arena however, and the elite athlete may find it overwhelmingly easy to lose his bearings. Throughout any quasi-competitive game, the occasional half-joking, half-desperate call of “Give chance!” would ring out. To many an elite athlete, that phrase is as damaging to one’s psyche as Kryptonite is to Superman.
What is the elite athlete supposed to do now? Should he continue to play the game as he knows it; chasing down every ball, returning every shot with interest, never quitting on a play? Isn’t that the way sport should be played, and wouldn’t his opponent be deserving of his utmost respect? After all, he did sign up for a competition, not a Sunday afternoon tea party.
Adopting a blasé attitude hardly works either. Elite players have a tendency to make a sport look easy as is. Ask them to reduce their efforts in any way, and they run the risk of making the sport look like a stroll in the park. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel good to lose to a guy who looked like he could be reading a novel while nonchalantly hitting balls past you in tennis. On the other hand, it won’t feel particularly good either to beat your opponent in golf when he was clearly more interested in bird-watching than the game itself.
For both possible responses to that dreaded phrase, the risk of miscommunication runs high. Continue playing to the best of his abilities, the elite athlete will be regarded as arrogant, not giving any quarters to less illustrious opponents. Tone down the intensity a notch and still win, same conclusion. Tone down the intensity and lose, opponents themselves question the hollow nature of their victory, and ironically, taste the bitterness of a lack of respect themselves.
It seems as though there is no way forward for the elite athlete, no response that would appear to be the “right” thing to do. If now’s the time where you’d expect a twist to the story, an unexpected volunteering of an enlightening realization, then I’m sorry to disappoint – there is none. There is, indeed, not much an elite athlete can do in the circumstances. The elite athlete will understand that, and he knows that he should only concern himself with the things that he can control. What his opponents say or do, or what others may think of him, he cannot control. So, in the words of the Beatles, he will simply “Let it be”.
We appear to have arrived at an impasse. Or have we? It is at this juncture where I proffer a solution to the problem (about time, isn’t it!). To the amateurs out there: Start behaving like the professional that sport deserves! Haughty as this will sound to most, given that most of us are in fact amateurs in our respective fields, I see it as the easiest way forward for both elite and amateur athletes to compete together in the right sporting spirit.
Interpret it however you wish, but, to my mind, the utterance of the phrase “give chance” out loud, or otherwise manifested in silent, unspoken thoughts of many an amateur athlete, is simply a defence mechanism. Defence against the inescapably unpleasant sensation of losing. I would be making a not untrue statement in saying that no one enjoys to lose. On the other hand, people would be making an untrue statement in saying that they are truly okay with losing. Thus, to protect themselves from the distastefulness of comprehensive defeat, amateurs seek to bring others down to their level, to ensure what they assume would then be a fair game. What they get out of this impure form of competition I truly do not, and probably will not ever understand.
I will not pretend that what follows will not be too much to ask for. But I will ask for it anyway. In what I promise to be the most sincere statement in this piece, I ask for every athlete to abandon all fears of losing. There is absolutely no shame in chasing down every ball, returning every shot with interest, never quitting on a play. There is no shame in showing that you care, in showing that you are up for a fight, in showing that you hate losing with a passion. In sport, there is always a winner and a loser. There are no two ways about it, that’s just how it is. One will also understand, perhaps with a bit of experience, that the eventual result (winning or losing) is also something out of one’s control. There is, and should be, no embarrassment in a loss, no need to feign indifference to the result, no need to hide behind any excuses.
What there is embarrassment in, however, is one’s attitude in a game. This may be a tricky concept for some to grasp. Only you yourself, will know and sense the true attitude you played with, no matter how explicitly you may try to express it. You yourself will feel the pain of guilt of not giving your all, and you yourself will revel in the self-contained pride of having done the best you could. There is an indescribably unique, triumphant feeling in knowing that you carried yourself with a winning attitude, which almost renders the eventual result inconsequential.
The elite athlete understands this concept to its core, given his years of experience and (surprise, surprise) his own fair share of defeats. For the amateur athlete, achieving this feeling may well be the greatest prize of all, and trust me, the truly elite athlete will be looking on in admiration and respect.