I’m like a lot of guys in that I love sports, especially football (soccer) and the World Cup. The tournament lasts a long time (over 4 weeks) and with 64 games on display offers a veritable feast of action and gluttony for sports and soccer fans alike. I personally don’t know how much work gets done during this time as I’m consistently distracted by the fervour around me. I try to plan my life around important matches and when it gets to the knockout stages hope that games go to extra time in the off chance that we get to nail-biting penalties.

The World Cup got me thinking about my whole relationship with sports and my lifestyle (career, family and downtime). Up until recently I played noon soccer three times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) with a drop-in group that has been playing at the same field and schedule for over 15 years. There’s normally anything between 10-20 guys (and the occasional girl) and the standard is pretty good. It’s like the United Nations in countries represented with Canada and Iran being the most and others following: the UK, Spain, Chile, Peru, France, Romania, Germany, Turkey, Colombia…

I used to work around my soccer addiction and purposefully schedule meetings and consultations for either before or after the games. I loved it. I found running around a field after a ball for 60-90 minutes 3 times per week worked wonders for my positive outlook on life and health. Just like writing these blog posts I found it to be cathartic in that it would vanquish my demons and let me release them out of my system. I was happy doing this for the last 3-5 years of my life.

Then all that changed. I finally had too many demanding roles to keep up this charade. I started working back as a Marketing Director along with another role as an Online Marketing Specialist. The game was up as both these demanded minimum 45-50 hours per week combined. This had good and bad effects in that I now had a more stable income but the lack of an output for all my stress meant a severe buildup of hormones. I began to dream about playing soccer and running after a ball (like some kind of lost puppy in the park) in stark contrast to my wife who only dreams about work (Excel spreadsheets and the sort).

This led me to rethink how can I fit all my needs into a single hectic workweek? Well, first of all, my sports had to be condensed and fit around my schedule. This led me to do interval training using a fantastic app on Android called Workout Trainer. I recommend it to anyone who is serious about getting fit. It has tons of routines and they are timed so you get a guy shouting encouragement at you while you pump iron and do sit-ups. I found 2 of the workouts that last a total of 28 minutes give me the best workout I’ve ever done in that space of time. I also started doing weights again a couple of times in the morning before my commute (even though early mornings are not my cup of tea). I then bought a road bike so that I can ride to and from work when the weather is compliant.

All this adds up to very little in comparison with my old soccer schedule. It does however give me a modicum of pleasure and release from the daily grind. It makes me wonder how the world works the way it does. If I had enough dollars I’d be with my drop-in friends every time and living the work/life-balance equation to the max. The simple reality though is nearly everyone is stuck in the rat race, trying to make ends meet, feeding mouths and looking forward to their consolatory few weeks’ vacation every year. In Vancouver, with its terrible affordability, this problem is even more acute. It’s near impossible for a mom or a dad to be stay-at-home simply due to the pressures to bring home the moola. It does get me thinking about an alternative reality where people are able to just do the things that keep their spirits up. After all, having a vocation is fantastic… a reason to live… but not all vocations are worthwhile when you consider the sustainability of their actions. Ask yourself now, is what I’m doing for a job helping or harming the earth long-term? Is it aiding or hindering humankind’s progress? Most people probably can’t answer this in the affirmative. I say let them play soccer instead…

As a footnote to the above musings, I do want to qualify some very important lessons you can glean from sport and some of the psychology that surrounds it. Stating the obvious, I think team-sports nurture important lessons for company cultures and how you work with others. Encouragement, balanced skills and collective responsibility enable a supposed weaker team to triumph over one with more superstars but less teamwork. It’s how Greece won the 2004 European Championships (I’m still in shock after 10 years!).

In addition, I want to share a couple of recent examples that really shine through in terms of life lessons from the world of sport:

1. The Chimp Paradox Idea by Professor Steve Peters

The sports psychiatrist Prof Peters has some very interesting things to say about the human mind and how we think about ourselves called the Chimp Paradox:

“The Chimp Model explains how the mind can be seen as three teams, each with their own agenda and way of working. The Human (you), is mainly based in the frontal lobe, is associated with logical thinking and works with facts and truth. The Chimp, mainly based in the limbic system, is an independent emotional thinking machine and works with feelings and impressions. The Computer, spread throughout the brain, is a storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviours. The Human and the Chimp can both put information in the Computer. The key is to put helpful information in the Computer to help manage the Chimp.”

Prof Peters has really helped athletes harness the power of their minds and not become distracted by negative thoughts. He has taken a bit of a beating in recent times due to the collapse of Liverpool’s title run in the 2014 Barclays Premier League, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s capitulation in the 2014 snooker world final and the England team’s no-show at the 2014 World Cup (all of whom he helped out as a consultant).  However, he’s helped British cycling win tens of gold medals in the last few Olympics (Sir Chris Hoy alone has 6) and triumph in the last 2 Tour de France’s. A powerful message he has is that sometimes it’s not always possible to win and the first thing you have to do is accept this. However, you have to create the right conditions for you to have the best chance of succeeding.

2. Jonny Wilkinson & The Imagined Video Camera

Jonny Wilkinson is a demi-god in the world of sport. Not only did he seal the final kick that won England its first rugby world cup in the hostile enemy territory of Sydney against old foes Australia (and with his weaker right foot) in 2003 but upon his final games of retirement in club rugby for Toulon as captain this year, he won the Heineken Cup (club rugby’s version of the Champions League) and the French title. Amongst his honours he can count the following:

  • The World Cup
  • World player of the year
  • 2nd highest points-scorer in international rugby (over 1,000 points)
  • The only man to have scored 1,000 points in both the English Premiership and the Top 14 in France
  • French sportsman of the year

He is an Englishman so popular with the French that they want to build a statue of him as a mark of respect (quite something!). He had an incredible impact on the game of rugby in the way he prepared himself for games. Jonny was a perfectionist and was always the last off the training ground.

The lesson I found most interesting in all the stories and media about his recent retirement was the idea that he always imagined himself to be followed by a CCTV camera wherever he went. He would then think back after 24 hours about whether he could be proud of what was recorded. He wanted to create reasons to be proud of himself so that nothing could distract him from his mission to be the best he could possibly be. This attitude is what makes Jonny a legend and an inspiration to anyone regardless of sport.

References / Further Reading & Media

Workout Trainer – Android App

The Chimp Paradox – Professor Steve Peters

Sir Chris Hoy – The Most Successful Olympic Cyclist in History – Wikipedia Page

Jonny Wilkinson – Wikipedia Page

Guardian Article – ‘Jonny Wilkinson: the most famous, most talented, most grounded’

Guardian Article – ‘Jonny Wilkinson the perfectionist engineers precisely the right ending’