Stand tall, as a team and a nation: Life lessons from sports | Opinion | columns | Hindustan Times
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Stand tall, as a team and a nation: Life lessons from sports | Opinion

A no-minority French team would probably have not even made it to the final stages of the tournament. In today’s India, this should be our biggest lesson. Together, we stand tall, as a team and as a nation. Divided, we become small and are destined to fail.

columns Updated: Jul 21, 2018 18:54 IST
Serena Williams, after she lost the Wimbledon final to Germany’s Angelique Kerber, in London, July 14, 2018(AP)

July has been a feast for lovers of sport. But now, the World Cup and Wimbledon are over and in our reminiscing, we may unearth some valuable life lessons. Learnings which pertain to mistakes we make in shaping our hopes, ambitions and even investment decisions.

One of our most common errors is an extrapolation or recency bias — the inclination to see the future as an extension of a straight line drawn from the present. This is such an understandable folly. The path of least resistance for the mind is to think that things will always continue as they are, even though all our life’s experience may be to the contrary.

Last year, tennis fans spoke of Novak Djokovic in tones bordering on pity; about how his glittering career had ended so abruptly. His former coach Boris Becker, that bankrupt yesteryear champion with a fake diplomatic passport, even remarked on how Novak had lost his hunger to succeed and would never win another Grand Slam unless he stopped spending so much time with his family. Holding the Wimbledon trophy last week, Djokovic made it a point to speak adoringly about his son and wife, as Becker whimpered in the commentary box. You never write off a champion. The opposite is also true. For four years before his spectacular comeback, Roger Federer was similarly written off by experts. The irony is that now they expect him to win every championship — that same extrapolation, but of his recent successes. And he is stumbling. In success or failure, current performance cannot be a reliable harbinger of what is to come. Things change. The swinging fortunes of not just Federer and Djokovic, but even Nadal, bear testimony. It is an invaluable life lesson, as we wade through our own less spectacular ups and downs. Why, even mutual fund disclaimers are quick to warn you of the pitfalls of an extrapolation bias in investing. Sport is just a more attractive teacher.

The football world cup was full of surprises and reams have been written already about how erstwhile giants such as Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina were humbled by relative minnows like Croatia, Belgium and Russia. Yet, it was also a great reminder to watchers to not get carried away by hype. Hype and hyperbole are such an integral part of the world we inhabit today, and there is no greater exponent of it than England. This is not recent. In the era before Andy Murray, when the nation couldn’t produce a single tennis star of any brilliance, they latched on to poor Tim Henman as a Rod Laver-like titan. Of course, the poor chap failed every time, but the Brits built him up to this mythical colossus. This time, England was pretty much assured of the cup the moment it made it to the second round. In the streets of London, they started chanting “The cup’s coming home”. Of course, they fell. This is a warning to all of us who get carried away by hype. To people who talk of India’s GDP growing by above 8-9% in perpetuity, in the process surpassing all nations, sooner or later, as the world’s largest economy. Or how the Sensex would soar to 500,000 in a couple of decades, compounding at 15% every year, which is its birthright. Hype is nice, as long as you don’t start taking it too seriously. England know it and we should try to avoid that trap.

France won the cup and for a nation with a footballing legacy riddled with racism, there was a cosmic touch in Pogba and Mbappe scoring in the final. Kylian Mbappe is of Cameroonian and Algerian descent while Paul Pogba is from a Guinean Muslim family. A no-minority French team would probably have not even made it to the final stages of the tournament. In today’s India, this should be our biggest lesson. Together, we stand tall, as a team and as a nation. Divided, we become small and are destined to fail.

Finally, amid all these learnings, there was also a revelation which eluded many tennis fans. In the reignited GOAT (greatest of all time) debate, it is perhaps time to acknowledge that the greatest is not Roger or Rafa. It is the mother of the 10-month-old Alexis Olympia, who lost in the Wimbledon finals.

Udayan Mukherjee is consulting editor, CNBC TV18

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 21, 2018 17:46 IST