Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nelson Mandela Rugby Helps Unite a Nation

Nelson Mandela: Rugby Helps Unite a Nation

At the moment I’m just finishing a book called Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage by Richard Stengel (as quoted below).  It’s not a book about sport or history but it does refer to both in describing Mandela’s leadership skills.  As was shown in the movie Invictus, Mandela used rugby as a unifying force in the racially divided nation of South Africa.
“Rugby came back into Mandela’s life when he became president.  Job number one for him was to be the father of the nation, the patriarch who united white and black around a common vision.”
“When the threats of harmony were greatest, in 1994 and 1995, Mandela used a curious tactic: He turned to sports as a way of healing the nation.  For years the ANC (African National Congress) had done everything it could to get the Springboks, the national rugby team, banned from international play.  And they had succeeded.  Now Mandela sought to have the ban on them lifted, and he became instrumental in bringing the rugby World Cup to South Africa.  He thought rugby could be the great uniter, and not a divider.  He began a charm campaign to win over the rugby establishment.”
Mandela showed great insight in to the potential that rugby had to unite black and white when it had in fact done the opposite for years.  It’s no exaggeration to say that in a very pivotal moment in South African history, Mandela deterred a movement to have both the Springbok’s name and colours changed.  To black South Africans, the Springboks had always been white South Africa’s team but Mandela knew that a team seen as representing the black citizens would be just as polarizing.  In much the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had done decades before, Mandela sought to win his opponents understanding.
“In his most famous gesture of reconciliation, Mandela wore the Springbok jersey and cap to the rugby finals at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Staduium in 1995.  When he strode out before the game to greet the team captain, the mostly white crowd began to chant, “Nel-son, Nel-son!” It was one of the most electrifying moments in the history of sport and politics.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Michael Jordan and Fear of Failure

Michael Jordan and the Fear of Failure

In any contest there is a winner and a loser and almost anyone would tell you that winning is a lot more fun.  But in many ways losing is more valuable in the long run as it helps to define us.  When we lose in sport, we learn much more about ourselves, our weaknesses, and how we might improve for the next time.  Setbacks, obstacles and outright failures force us to make decisions as to how seriously we want to pursue a goal, and how we’re going to make it happen.
In sport there are a great number of champion athletes who faced setbacks and later acknowledged these failures as very significant to their ultimate success.  Michael Jordan for example was cut from his high school basketball team in grade 10.  He refers to this event as being integral to his development as it taught him that he could bring about a significant change in his ability through hard work.  A lot of that has to do with his reaction to being cut in the first place.  In other words he chose to react positively, to work harder, to make himself better.
Experiencing failure can also be very valuable in the sense that one learns that life goes on and that failure is not something to be feared.  In terms of being successful in a competitive environment, getting over the fear of failure is a very valuable skill.  In fact, the higher the level of competition, the more important the skill becomes.
In the mid-90’s when the Chicago Bulls were in the midst of winning several NBA championships, Michael Jordan was in a commercial that reflected on the fact that failure is a part of what he did for a living.  Have a look:
Keep in mind that this commercial was made before the end of Jordan’s career.  In other words, the numbers he refers to where not career totals and when all was said and done the numbers were higher.  To me, the most poignant stat referred to in the commercial was the missed game-winning shots.  It’s an amazing thought that you could string together somewhere between a third and a half of a season worth of (NBA Champion) Chicago Bulls losses where they lost for no reason other than they gave the ball to the best player ever to step on a court and he just missed.
What’s the point?  You can’t be afraid to try.  And by all accounts when Jordan went for that game winning shot, the thought of missing was the furthest thing from his mind.  And if you ask any sport psychologist, they’ll tell you that was one of Jordan’s greatest strengths.