The Grouch!

It's been a little while since I last dropped a log in the blogosphere. Partly because I have got myself into something (legal) which has tickled my fancy and caught my interest (although in truth, many things do at first gasp!). More importantly though it is because I have little to say.

Controversial isn't it! Don't get me wrong, the mind has continued to whirl. I have not stopped observing the world around me or the people in it. I just have not had anything I felt was additive enough to be brought up or felt strongly enough about to say anything which would effectively merely underscore a point that had already been made or was obvious enough to all but the most slow-witted (no points for spotting the assumptions in play here!)

I know that this reticence, often put down to shyness in the young, and ignorance, stupidity or passive-aggression as we age, has held me back. The general look of surprise or prompted contemplation in response to something I do say speaks to the preconception! However, it is still something I cling to. These days, I work to play the game a little - enough to buy a seat at the table. Once you have bought in you can afford to assess the lie of the land. Both you and those around you - friend and foe - have a limited amount of resource, so timing, pacing and weighting of your shots is important. What's your game plan? What's significant to you? How does this fit with that?

Why does this come up now? I've spent a bit of time recently with old friends and opening my ears to listen to comments from newer friends. "What's the matter, you seem so serious"; "He's always been serious, you struggle to get a smile"; "Brooding stare"; "I'm not sure that just wanting to have fun was enough for you."

Now, those are, to some degree or another, fair comment. The last one stung because it was true and having some fun with all this has always been important to me. It's a little distressing to find that in that case I have been trying to push performance where it's not a situation of training "for" something. And it would seem that this has registered with me as "just for the sake of it" - never one of my strong points! It's a good learning point for me.

The others? Well, it's true to say that the Paddington hard stare has always held more appeal and utility for me than the foam-flecked, gesticulating, incandescent explosion of ire. Occasionally one of those is quite cathartic (but there are more useful ways of exercising that demon).

Of course, this has been sulking in the past. Indeed, the stock-joke when I was skipper was that I would go home and lock my girlfriend in the cupboard under the stairs when we lost. I'm pleased to say that I never took defeat out on my now-wife. Mind you, I'd imagine that while she smiles indulgingly at the joke, I was quite unpleasant to be around as I retreated into my mental cave to dwell, replay and internalise the performance deficiencies.

The trouble I have is that in so many walks of life we value show over substance. The show-pony gets the plaudits while the ox tills the soil. And why people are content to train to look like Tarzan but play like Jane baffles the heck out of me. It's a family prejudice really. My inheritance, handed down on both sides of the family tree, is a contempt for what my Granddad described as "fur coat and no drawers". The Emperor's new clothes was a favourite story of mine... and not just for the royal streaking episode!

I do not get overtly excited when watching sport. The pulse quickens but I'm looking for the substance - the hard yakka, the grunt, the supporting run, the line being straightened, the simple crisp mechanics rather than the flourish. Both take dexterity and both have their place but the sum of the simple things done well wins far more battles.

There is a place for those who play with a flourish who have earned, and continue to earn, the right to play that way. That's where legends lie. So, rather than dismissing the fancy Dan out of hand, that's what I am looking for. That's the reason for me casting my baleful eyes around. Can I see the craft behind the art? Every great work of art has been born out of skill, tears and toil. It is easy to forget the last two when in the presence of the finished piece but as coaches and players we cannot overlook them.

Brooding? Yes
Too serious? Probably guilty as charged.
Miserable? Far from it.

Wasted talent is tragic. Since my work and life is prosaic, the only opportunity I have to avert tragedy is in my coaching! Each time I see somebody take a step forward (by their own measure) I feel happiness for them. Their successes are their own. Their failures are mine. A blip in technique, a return to old habits, a defeat on the pitch shines a light on something I have not done or could have done differently.

As I have got older I have tried to relax my judgement of myself in the way that I would tell my charges to do. However, the hair shirt is familiar territory! It's a very high bar to set but that's a story for another day. For now, remember this:

Frown and you frown alone. Smile and the world will really wonder what you've been up to!

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