What do we learn from sport?
The night before the rugby world cup final of 2003, Jonny Wilkinson had a dream in which he asked an angel two questions: A) will everything go as I want it to? B) will people still respect me afterwards? The angel then presented him with a contract which, if he signed, would guarantee the result he wanted and release him from the burden of playing in the match. He said that in 95% of the games he was due to play, he would have signed that contract and not played. But for the world cup final he wanted to ‘live in the moment’.
Jonny Wilkinson talks a great deal about mental health and wellbeing and the ability to be in control of stressful and pressurised situations. Dealing with them successfully often comes down to living in the moment through courage and resilience and that is exactly what we have been focusing on this week at school.
With this year’s global tournament kicking off in Japan today, I took the opportunity to focus on the sport in Chapel yesterday; not necessarily to educate the children about rugby but perhaps encourage them to take something from it. In an obvious way, it is a sport that requires courage. When Australian Taniela Tupou is running at you in his 135kg (21 stone) frame, a certain amount of bravery is required to stop you from running away! Or when you face the Fijians and Tongans delivering their pre-match war chants you’ll probably be glad that you don’t speak their languages since some of the lines translate to, ‘Today, destroyer of souls, I am everywhere’, ‘Gone is my humanness’ and ‘I can uproot you, yes it will be achieved’.
But rugby is also a game that brings people together irrespective of background, language, wealth or colour. Anyone who has seen the image of Nelson Mandela handing over the Webb Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar in 1995 will recognise the ultimate example of resilience and courage. Following imprisonment due to the colour of his skin, Mandela was President of South Africa as the World Cup loomed. Instead of showing hatred towards those who imprisoned him – the kinds of people who loved rugby in South Africa – he embraced the sport and demonstrated that he was embracing all people in South Africa. They won the world cup and united the country even more tightly.
There will be surprises in this tournament. Some will emerge as heroes; others will fail. There will be courage and resilience in abundance and those that succeed will be the ones who didn’t sign the contract but lived in the moment instead.