Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: achievement, david willetts, defeat, gordon strachan, middlesbrough, qpr
I sometimes lie on my hammock, blow smoke rings into the air, sip on a single malt whisky, and wonder how it all turned out just so right. Well, not bad anyway. And my thoughts inevitably turn to Gordon Strachan, ginger haired Scottish footballing genius.
Saturday saw me in West London, at the home of QPR – watching Middlesbrough provide the merest slip of a promise of an afternoon well spent, before offering up their behinds for a good and proper spanking. Three-nil it was. There was more spirit shown in a fight between two Middlesbrough supporters who disagreed on matters of club trajectory and loyalty to a failing cause than there was on the pitch, where two players managed to step on the ball and fall over.
And I thought to myself, I hope I have children so that I can introduce them to this.
Here, read this:
“…softer skills like application became more important realtive to IQ in predicting your educational attainment. These softer skills are good qualities. They include empathy and emotional intelligence but it is misleading to call them all soft. Grit is a better name for the key attribute. […] It means you study and stick at things even if you do not get good results straightaway. It is about valuing the future and deferring gratification, as we saw in chapter 7: ‘Under-achievement among American youth is often blamed on inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large classes. We suggest another reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline’.”
This passage is from a fantastically erudite book by the man who now sits, I believe, as minister for science, David Willetts.
It is full of monkeysized themes, and I hope to tell you more about this in the future. But for now, nursing a start to the season of four losses, one draw and an appallingly humdrum win, I will focus on the subject of grit.
In the past, if you wanted to find the leaders and achievers of the future, the Napoleans and the Stalins, you would look at a child’s upbringing. Are they troubled? Is their father a shit? Is this filling them with a burning desire to achieve, to prove everybody wrong?
The modern world has an answer to this – it is called the shit football club.
If a child is ready to stand up in the playground, especially if far from the catchment area of a particular club, and say ‘Yes, I know they’re shit, but I follow them nevertheless’, that child is full of grit. They know disappointment; they know despair; they know that familiar feeling that more is being asked of them than is being given in return. They know that victories have to be fought for, and that you should never take things for granted. Life is a fight. If a victory comes along, enjoy it while never forgetting how much effort it took and how fleeting it might be.
Do you get this from following Barcelona or Manchester United? No. Do you get this from following Middlesbrough, Polonia Warszawa or Berwick Rangers? Yes.
And it’s from the ranks of the supporters of those clubs that the next generation of great men and women will be, complete with slightly haunted expression, burning desire to see a better world in their lifetime, and vague smell of meat pie.
There was a sketch in a BBC series a year or two back that took the mickey out of the ‘Now! The greatest showdown in the history of the world… since the last showdown!’ culture in sports. In the same vein comes (as ever) the Onion…
Over the past five years, sports announcers have displayed a marked increase in their ability to accept the evidence of their eyes and find the sporting efforts they witness “entirely credible,” a study published Wednesday concluded. “In the past, sportscasters were like newborn infants, assuming each running catch or 28-point performance was outside the realm of possibility,” said Cornell University researcher Karen Thaler, who noted that “wow’s” and “oh-my’s” have recently hit all-time lows. “It appears they are now able to contextualize an event within the long and varied history of team sports that came before it.
Sport is ludicrous. The bountiful rewards for task xxx but not xxh are extreme. Look at basketball, American football, or, taking two of my favourite and relatively unrewarded sports, cricket and rugby. Becoming the world’s greatest wrist spinner or tighthead prop is indeed a skill, but perhaps I was born with the exact and precise skill to do task xxf+32, which unfortunately hasn’t found its sport yet. Bugger.
Sport is part show business, hence the validity of The Onion’s observations. It’s also part athletic challenge, in whichever specific way it needs to be framed – tighthead prop against potential expert in xxf+32.
So is it monkeysized or not? Well evidently not – although the simple thing to say is that a sense of perspective is everything in matters monkeysized. If you earn a fortune as a – and I use the term with amusement rather than any understanding of what the hell it means – ‘pinch-hitter’, then thank god for the way the world built up in such a weird way that you could excel in your chosen field and then earn a good coin or two in it. No, you are not the second coming. No, girls, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get your hands on a super-human. He just happened to be good at xx6ygx, and be born at the right time in the right place.
I’ll always love sport, and treat it with the contempt that it deserves – after all, as a Middlesbrough supporter I’m hardly liable to overcook how important it all is. I’ll help any kids Mrs Monkeysize provides me with understand all that stuff about values and character (which I believe in), and teach them that it’s worth supporting Boro (or Mrs M’s family’s team, the rather more saintly Sampdoria) because it’s character-building.
It’s also a fabulous reminder of how ridiculous so much of our lives are. Yes, rugby and pinch-hitting and the premier league and Middlesbrough are all ridiculous, but so is much of the rest of it. Sit back, remember it’s ridiculous, and enjoy. Just don’t go stabbing anybody over it.
PS Boro 2-0 Preston. Get in!