The Fist Pump – Fair or Foul?
I am Old School. While I like to think of myself asasensitive, emotional person, I try to cover my emotions. Somehow, being brought up under strict (dare I say it?)colonial parenting and schooling, the “stiff-upper lip” stuff has been painted tightly over my sporting face.“Play up, Play up and Play the game” and “Not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game” are mantras that were beaten into my schoolboy brain.
Squash buddy and close friend, Neale Emslie and I have known each other since schooldays, played each other first when we were at opposing universities, and have since then probably played each other well over 500 times. Of those, 95% have probably been five-setters, and the win-loss ratio hovers around 51 – 49% depending on good or bad years. Affectionately known as Bushbuck,(though he moves more like a giraffe),Neale is a good man.Principled, patient and caring. Slow to anger. A sportsman to his fingertips. A lover of all sports.
But perform a Fist Pump in his presence, and his wrath unravels. You will endure eternal strife!! Be fearful of an Angry Bushbuck.
The other day, I watched a recording of that epic match between Gregory Gaultier and Mohammed El Shorbagy at the JP Morgan tournament in New York.While I admired, and loved watching the subtle changes of pace, the elastic retrieving, the brutal scything skills of that cliff-hanger, my old-schoolrules pulled at my conscience. My stomach turned, as I watched Gautier, nick-named the French General, fist-pump, hip thrust and conduct the crowd in a display of gamesmanship that bordered on…. let me not say it. I quivered at Gaultier’s performance. Is this what players who I am coaching, are watching? Will they want to imitate this behavior? Had Bushbuck, witnessed the drama, we would have had to call in the medical teams and ambulances. His heart-rate would have risen, his anger would have boiled over into revulsion as Gaultier took fist-pumping and gamesmanship to the Nth degree.
Was this the quietly-spoken Gregory Gaultier who I had met at the World Coaches Conference in Poland?Was this the pleasant man who had taken me through a practice session and then shown the group an amazing set of skills, driving a cone marker from mid-court to back court by driving the ball to hit the marker and move it back into the depths of the court? Is this the man who apparently strings his racquets at between 14 -16 lbs. tension? What schizophrenic competitive cloak falls over a person once they enter that claustrophobic squash courted cell? And how much heavier does that cloak become in a tight situation of a critical match?
Having said that, was this not a ploy. A game plan. Gaultier’s performance was an amazing display of skill and guts. But it was also an amazing performance of using the brain, and experience to upset the rhythm of the opponent, just within the rules.Did he not cleverly upsetEl Shorbagy’s calmed mind, and suck him into rushed over-reaction. Is this not what a coach wants? That his players be internally, physically and mentally tough, resilient and single-minded. Do the All Blacks also not do off-the-ball stuff that frustrates, and angers their opponents, and sucks them into stupid mistakes?
I am also not a great match-play player. In friendlies, frequently, I will beat folk supposedly much better than me. But in tight league, or tournament matches, the tension becomes too much, and frequently, I crumble. As a coach, I have read up and spent hours discussing notes on sport psychology, and breathing, and meditation, and, and, and…And despite all the good advice, every individual is different, and every individual needs to develop his own recipe to develop that internal mental strength
And I wondered? If I wanted to win a bit more often. Maybe I should be more emotional. Maybe, I should let it all hang out. Why not let it all out? Watch the top sports and there will always be that out-pouring of emotion when players win a big point, score a goal, make that massive putt. With so much pressure hanging on the result of matches these days, the millions of TV viewers, the press build- ups, the knowledge that this win could catapult you up the rankings, roll in lots more money… Can you blame our top sportsmen? Even Roger Federer, probably the epitome of calm, cool and collected showed visible signs of internal pleasure, dare I say, mini fist-pumps, in the Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal.
I am a non-golfer. I play in corporate days, so I play terrible golf on lots of beautiful courses. My good shots are few and far between.Being the absolute mental game that golf is, somehow, despite playing very socially, I feel intense pressure when driving off the first tee, quivering from within a bunker or twitching before a 4ft putt. Occasionally, very occasionally, I clutch a big putt. The ball wanders, first quickly, and then lazily, 15meters later, it slips into the hole. And then I FIST-PUMP. For the moment, I am The Man. And I love it. Sadly, invariably, my next drive, skewers westwards, and I am brought back to reality of the rough life of golf. Fist-pumping does not really do it for me.
I enjoy my squash, even if I do lose. The friends I make through my sport are important to me. While I understand that, that competitive streak maybe a lot stronger in others than in me, I will leave fist-pumping to those who are seriously under pressure. Let those who have the mental strength to control their emotions, and re-focus, aftera winning rally, dally in fist-pumping fun. And I will continue to persuade my pupils that whether they win or lose, how they play the game is far more important in the long term.