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Sports and sportsmanship

Whenever my 14-year old son binge-watch YouTube videos on cricket, I am sure he had played the game that day and was unhappy with his performance. So he is now eager to learn something new in the game, and redeem his respect in the eyes of his friends. I can be sure because that is what I do whenever I am not happy about my badminton.

I took to playing it a few years ago for exercise, socialising and catching up with what is going on in the town. But to my surprise, I found that all my playmates were serious about the game, though none of them was a professional player. The entire ambience of the court will be so serious that anybody who showed up there without an intent to play was promptly shown the door.

In no time, I too became serious. And I started taking the ups and downs in my game personally. The frustration of losing a game might stay throughout the day. I would mentally replay — sometimes, even when I did not want to — those awkward moments on the court: when I was caught off-guard by a deceptive shot of my opponent, or when someone caught wind of my tactics and hit the shuttle with such ease and comfort as if he was swatting a bloated mosquito with an insect bat.

The high of winning was no better, with its own kind of awkwardness. I would carry the heady feeling from the court to home and to work, where a badminton champion was, at best, a trespasser. And I would sport a grin, when I was with friends or went shopping, that nobody could account for.

I did not know if this was the experience of other players too. How could I ask them directly? So I would pick somebody relaxing in between games and I would tell him, “You know, when I have a bad time on the court, it affects the quality of my day.” But usually people won’t be forthcoming. The typical responses would be a feigned surprise (“Oh, is it!”), followed by the standard “I forget badminton the moment I step out of the court.”

I was not ready to believe them. Because these were men who cursed the whole world: the racquet, the shuttlecock, last night’s dinner, the weather or worse, their own partners, if they lost a game. These were men who stalked out of the court in a huff when they lost a game. And when they won, they would roar and trample all over the court like a tiger that has just settled a fight with its peers over territorial rights once and for all.

Then I realised that it could be hard for people to accept that how they fared or not in the game had a sway on their emotions for the rest of the day. Because for them, who were teachers or doctors or lawyers or business people, badminton was supposed to be only an amateur activity. And they were not children. They were in their 40s and 50s.

In search of honest expressions on how real-world champions took winning or losing in their stride, I once googled. I came across many wonderful and a few awful quotes. It was some of those wonderful quotes that made me realise that there was a new arena in sports in which I had to improve my skills. It was not a sports skill but a sportsmanship skill. This skill was about playing, winning and losing gracefully.

Even today, I continue to watch YouTube videos on badminton, especially when I don’t play well, but after my big realisation, my attention goes also to see how champions display the spirit of sportsmanship, especially in defeat. And whenever I see grace on the court, I get my son to watch it.

sankar@sankarg.com

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 3:45:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/sports-and-sportsmanship/article33587725.ece

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