Mastering a winning formula

I've just finished watching my 5-year-old competing in sports day. In every single race he's so far behind the rest of the field that he's constructed a strange inner defence mechanism to cope: he's somehow convinced himself that being the last person to finish a race is what makes you a winner.

Based on this formula for success, he was undefeated today. Not that he's hubristic about it though, far from it. He's actually very modest about each win; sweetly pointing out the sticker on his chest which every competitor gets. No bragging, no fist-pumping, no hands in the air, no showboating – nothing. He just ambles about the racetrack, picking up beanbags, dropping them into buckets, craning his head to admire the dappled light and, occasionally, as the rest eagerly race on, he stops still for a few moments, turns to me with a smile, raises two thumbs then carries on at a very unflustered pace.

Afterwards, once he's finished his lap of honour along with his whole cohort of key stage one children, I go and say hello and tell him how proud I am of him. Five races completed, last in all (or first, based on his formula), he's quietly pleased with himself.

I can't help but wonder how many more World Cups England would have won by now if we had a similar approach to our players, if, instead of booing them at the end of a turgid nil-all draw with Algeria, we just clapped them and said "well done, boys".

There would be no performance anxiety, no vitriolic recriminations, nothing. And even if we didn't win, we'd probably be a whole lot happier.

Image © thorpegreenways via Flickr under Creative Commons Licence

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