IN THIS ISSUE:
THE THRILL OF VICTORY…AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT – Handling winning and losing. Let me state the obvious: In every athletic contest there is always a winner and a loser, a winning squad or a losing one. As expected, the winner may experience a broad range of emotions in varying degrees of intensity. He may feel ecstatic, satisfied, confident, vindicated, superior, haughty, happy, relaxed, like he’s “Da man,” humble, empathy for the loser or any number of other feelings, even including sad and let- down. Similarly, the loser experiences his own wide array of emotions from distraught, depressed, angry, resentful, sad, anxious, like a failure, frustrated, inadequate, cheated, or sometimes, even satisfied and successful. Some winners and losers keep their feelings to themselves while others “share” their inner emotional experience with those around them, including anyone within shouting range. Whether these feelings get “shared” and how the individual goes about doing so depends on a number of factors including the situation, the athlete’s personality, his level of maturity and ego strength, whether coaches and parents are around and the kind of behavioral limits these adults have traditionally set in the past, the athlete’s capacity for sportsmanship, his level of self esteem and the kinds of role models he has had and currently has in his life.
There’s no question that sports competition can be a powerfully evocative, emotional experience ranging from the roller coaster high that comes with the thrill of victory to the crushing agony of defeat. As a consequence, the outcome of winning or losing frequently generates powerful waves of emotions in athletes, their parents, the coaches and of course let’s not forget the sports fan. Many athletes, parents and coaches have learned through experience how to successfully ride these strong emotional currents. As a result, their behaviors in response to them are both effective and appropriate. On the other hand, some athletes, parents or coaches get completely overwhelmed by these emotional waves and as a consequence, their behaviors are ineffective, inappropriate and, at times, quite infantile. The fact of the matter is that your emotions always influence the way that you act. Wh! en you’re in control of these emotions, your actions are timely, classy and thoughtful. However, when your emotions control you, your actions are clumsy, tacky and not at all burdened by logic or intelligent thinking.
The simple fact is that when we allow these strong emotions to sail our ship, we will almost always end up in deep doo-doo, smashed and broken on the rocks. In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we will examine these powerful feelings generated by winning and losing and take a closer look at the behavioral consequences that they have on us.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “What goes around, comes around, ALWAYS!”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Why does Julia hate me whenever I beat her?”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Handling your athlete/team’s failures”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Genghis Khan and His Hawk”
“What goes around, comes around, ALWAYS!”
It was my first real tournament, my very first “official” competition as an athlete. I was excited, overly confident and a wee bit naïve. After all, you can’t really blame me. I was only 11 years old and a little boy to boot. Like most preadolescent males who have no trouble accurately assessing their athletic competence, I humbly viewed myself as God’s gift to creation on the tennis court. I actually thought that I’d do really well in this tournament. Forget that I had never worked with a coach. Forget that I had no tournament experience. Forget that I had been only playing the game for just this one summer. I could beat all 3 of my tennis playing buddies and that was enough evidence to convince me that I had great natural talent and ability, and would most likely go very far in the sport. Truth be told, I had no real clue what I was actually getting mysel! f into.
Back in the early 60’s when I first started playing the game, there was an appropriate uniform that you always wore if you had even a sliver of an understanding of tennis: Everything white -white tennis shorts, shirt, athletic socks and, of course, white tennis sneakers. No one who knew the game ever wore anything of color because this was considered gauche and tacky in the rarified air of competitive tennis, even at the public parks around working-class New Bedford where I played. Not having a clue about these unspoken rules, I showed up bright and early that morning in my standard sports dress: black shorts, blue shirt and dark colored socks with black Converse sneakers. To top off my chic tournament wear, was my signature hat. I never went ! anywhere in the summer without some kind of cap. This one was a funny looking, squished brim, sweat-stained brown cap. There’s no question that I was “stylin” at least in my own mind. How could I know at the time that I looked like a total dork?
My opponent, Jeff T was clearly a tennis player. He was tall, deeply tanned, lanky and dressed all in white from head to toe. He was two years older than me and at least a foot and half taller. Not only that, but when Jeff T hit the ball, he very much looked the part of a skilled tennis player. He had a good game and solid strokes. His serve was strong and he could play net. I, on the other hand, played tennis like I was playing ping pong, which incidentally, is exactly how I had gotten as good as I had on the tennis courts. I gripped the racquet awkwardly. My forehand stroke was nothing more than a wrist flick, as if I were swinging a ping pong paddle and my backhand was so unorthodox and ugly, it could’ve stopped a Mack truck going 70mph. I don’t think old Jeff T needed to hit even one ball against me before he was able to accurately assess that I was a first class hacker and t! hat he was going to kick my little butt all over the court.
And this is exactly what he did! He ran me around as if I was a wind-up doll from corner to corner, back and forth. He literally toyed with me, hitting drop shots close to the net and then, when I frantically raced in to try to return them, popping accurately placed lobs close to the baseline. He won points at will, smirking and giggling through it all. In fact, one of Jeff T’s tennis playing buddies was standing directly behind the fence watching our entire match. He and Jeff were having a pretty good on-going laugh throughout the entire, 30 minute joke. Jeff ended up beating me 6 – 0, 6 – 0 without my even winning a single point! It was a very ugly and humbling experience for me. At the match’s end I looked like I had been run over by a herd of elephants. My knees were skinned and bloody from the many falls that I had taken. I was soaked with sweat. My clothes were ! disheveled. I was exhausted. Old Jeff T however, looked like he had just come out for a photo shoot. There wasn’t a bead of perspiration anywhere on his handsome tanned face and not a hair out of place.
What I remember most from this embarrassing introduction to my competitive tennis career was not the lopsided loss. Instead, it was my opponent’s attitude and demeanor that made this loss in my very first tournament so “memorable.” As competitive as I was, I really didn’t care that much that I had lost. I didn’t care that I hadn’t even won a game or even a point! The bare fact of the matter was that Jeff T was very good and I was very bad! Plain and simple. However, Jeff wasn’t a very good winner. He wasn’t a very good sport. He wasn’t at all gracious. He didn’t even try to hide the fact that my being on the court with him was an insult to his sensibilities and a big joke. He was a pompous snob who openly poked fun at me. And to add a little more insult to injury, as we shook hands after the match, he said to me with phony sincerity! , “Gee, that was a great match you just played against me. You’ve got a good game.”
Now in reality, this was a crock of meadow muffins. I was indeed a tennis playing joke. I was a virtual beginner. This was my very first experience playing competitive tennis. My game was ugly. My attire was ugly. My skills were minimal and, truth be told, I sucked! However, regardless of all my shortcomings, as the older and far dominant player and eventual winner, Jeff T owed me big time! He owed me respect and kindness. He owed me some basic, common courtesy. He owed me a chance to lose with dignity. He didn’t need to go easy on me. He didn’t need to let me win a game or even a point for that matter. However, he did owe me good sportsmanship. Instead, what he gave me was disrespect and embarrassment. His behavior was truly despicable, was not the behavior becoming of a champion, and in my mind, it completely tarnished his victory.
As an athlete, you don’t ever want to rub your competitor’s face in his loss regardless of how nasty this opponent may have been to you in the past or how desperately you wanted to beat him. You never want to go outside of the sport to embarrass or humiliate your opponent in the process of your victory. You never want to be disrespectful. Regardless of what you’re feeling inside about your competitor or the outcome, you want to keep your mouth shut and control yourself. This is even truer if what you have to say or do is ultimately demeaning or bad-mannered. Being a true champion means that you have to learn to conduct yourself with class, regardless of the level that you compete at.
Unfortunately far too many of our more highly visible, professional athletes don’t do a very good job of presenting appropriate role models for us to follow as athletes. They talk trash, engage in self-promoting, idiotic celebrations whenever they successfully do their job, let their anger and frustrations control their behaviors in relation to the game officials, opponents, sports fans or the media, and in many ways present today’s amateur athlete with a comprehensive, “how not to be” as a competitor. Many of these bad role models actually think that their behaviors are not only acceptable, but even “cool” and part of the game. Truth be told, they are acting like fools, embarrassing themselves and giving their sport and team a bad name! This is not what competitive sports at any level are supposed to be about. It is selfish, immature and ultimately disres! pectful to both teammates and opponents.
If you want to be a class act, you must instead have respect and empathy for your opponent. Empathy is having the ability to step inside another’s shoes and feel exactly what they are feeling. When you can truly appreciate what your opponent is feeling, then you will be hard pressed to treat them disrespectfully. This is that basic, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” rule of living. Simply put, you need to have a basic understanding and appreciation of what it feels like to be at the losing end. And trust me on this one: SOONER OR LATER YOU WILL LOSE AND KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. An opponent with empathy would never have done what Jeff T did to me because he would know that being treated that way by another athlete feels absolutely terrible. Jeff T’s of the world, just remember one thing about sports and life: WHAT GOES AROUND, ULTIMATELY COMES AROUND!! ALWAYS!
Athletes who rub their opponent’s face in a loss will soon find themselves at the other, much more unpleasant end of the game, just like Jeff T….
How was Jeff T to know what I was made of inside? How was he to have a clue that this little dweeb with the funny dress and stupid hat, who had a game so ugly that it could stop a truck could morph into a # 1 singles player and conference champion in college? How could Jeff T begin to know that his humiliation of me that day set off a spark inside of me that tripped my determination to get as good as I possibly could in this sport. Two years after I lost to Jeff T in record time I had to play him again in the second round of the city championships. This time, however, I was a very different tennis player than the one that he had first bullied around. This time it was me who ran old Jeff T around like a wind-up doll. This time it was me who easily won the match and starting with that victory, Jeff T never came close to beating me again, ever! Despite the fact that it brought me great satisfac! tion to kick his butt, I didn’t feel the need to rub his face in it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t need to.
He did that to himself. He was so enraged that I, a former dork had totally dominated him, that at the match’s conclusion, he angrily smashed his racquet into the court, shattering it. Then he threw what was left of his racquet, which now closely resembled a lacrosse stick, the length of the court, accurately sticking it into the back fence. He then ran over to his racquet, pulled it out of the fence and proceeded to beat it as hard as he could against a big old oak tree outside the courts where we had played, using colorful words and phrases that I’m sure you’ve heard before. Be careful how you conduct yourself as the vict! or because WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND, ALWAYS!
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!
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“Mommy, how come Julia hates me whenever I beat her?”
Many years ago Terry, one of my adult tennis students inadvertently taught me an interesting lesson about gender differences in competitive sports and how some young women tend to handle the pressures of winning and losing. Actually, when I first heard about this incident I thought there must be something seriously wrong with her. However, after working with thousands of athletes for all these years I’ve come to realize that Terry’s “problem,” albeit quite ugly, is far too common across all women’s sports. Understand that as I write this, I’m not picking on the female gender. There’s plenty wrong with males in sports too. It’s just that today we’re going to take a look at a nasty dynamic that tends to go on more with girls and women when they compete than it does with boys and men.
Terry’s strange behavior was related to me by Janice, another of my tennis students. Janice and Terry, both intermediate level players were involved in a ladder match at the local club where I taught. Janice was dominating the match, ahead 6-1 in the 8 game pro-set and cruising to an easy victory. It was at this point that Terry approached her opponent at the net and began to bitterly complain to Janice about how well she was playing and how tough her shots were to return as if this were something grossly unfair or unsportsmanlike. Even as I recall this incident today it’s beyond me how Terry could actually have had the nerve to say anything other than, “Damn, Girl! You sure are kicking my butt today. Way to go!”
Janice was so taken aback, distracted and then guilt ridden by Terry’s obvious unhappiness and accusations of “foul play” that she lost her composure and didn’t win another game in the set. She stopped playing aggressively, began to make a lot of unforced errors and eventually lost to Terry 8 – 6! To put the cherry on top of this most foul sundae, at the match’s conclusion, Terry actually came up to the net and thanked Janice for letting her win! It’s beyond me how anyone could have gotten satisfaction from this kind of victory.
There’s no question that many athletes, male or female have trouble with losing. Losing is not nearly as fun as winning. Losing can be frustrating, disappointing and downright discouraging. If your ego or self-worth is tied up with the outcome of a competition, then losing can be big-time threatening to your sense of self. In these situations, losing can trigger feelings of inadequacy followed by protective surges of anger and even rage. Most serious athletes hate losing with a passion. However, regardless of how unpleasant losing may be, all of us need to learn how to appropriately handle this sometimes unpleasant albeit very valuable, common life experience. As a parent of a competitive athlete, it’s partially your job to teach your child how to do this. I say partially because some of the responsibility for imparting this lesson also lies with your child’s coaches.
“Why does Julia hate me when I beat her?” complained a 12 year old swimmer to her mother after a very successful meet. “She’s supposed to be my best friend, but after the race she was really mean to me. She called me ‘stuck up’ and then wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the weekend. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong when I outrace her. And it also makes me feel like I can’t beat her if I want to keep her as my best friend.”
Therein lies the dilemma for so many girls and women in sports and life: The struggle between pursuing excellence and socially fitting in with the peer group. Competition seems to be a dirty little secret for a lot of girls and women involved in sports. Because young girls are socialized to be cooperative and tuned into the other’s feelings, being aggressive and competitive seems to violate their female code of conduct. It’s as if when you’re competitive and excel you are somehow hurting your opponent and therefore breaking the rules of appropriate conduct. Both Janice and Terry seemed to have gotten caught up in this unspoken dynamic with Terry for feeling violated and somehow wronged because she was getting outplayed and Janice for feeling guilty for her “transgressions” and then backing down from winning.
I’m the father of two young women now and what’s always bothered me ever since they’ve been young was the unspoken double standard in sports: If being aggressive, competitive and striving to be the best is considered such a good thing for males, why should it be seen in such an ugly, negative light for females? Why can’t girls and women feel GREAT about totally dominating an opponent and seeing all their hard work and training efforts pay off?
Now you may read this and think, “Get with the program Doc! Times have changed. Things are truly different today. My daughter feels great about herself whenever she wins and so do all her teammates!” Well, the fact of the matter is that things may have shifted slightly and young girls may be overtly encouraged to feel good about being aggressive and competitive. However, the bottom line is most aren’t! Winning still presents a lot of girls and young women with the same internal conflict between being the best and being socially accepted, between feeling really good about themselves and feeling guilty. Furthermore, far too many girls who lose still react as if they have been seriously and unfairly wronged by the victor. And these girls then respond by acting out in petty, nasty and inappropriate ways.
As the parent of a female athlete you have to do your part to normalize competition in female sports and to teach your daughter how to behave appropriately whether she wins or loses. You have to teach her that not only is it healthy to strive to be the best, but that she needn’t feel one iota of guilt for beating an opponent in the process, (assuming it was done within the rules and with good sportsmanship), and that apologies are never necessary for winning, even when your win is over your best friend. Along these same lines, you must help your daughter get a handle on the natural feelings of jealousy that arise when you train and compete against others, especially friends.
While intense feelings of jealousy appear to be an all too common part of girls’ sports, your child must learn to handle them in an acceptable manner. She must learn that while we all experience a wide range of emotions internally, how you deal with these externally, on the outside determines your character and the kind of person you truly are. All too often, girls end up acting out their feelings of jealousy. They get overtly angry at their opponent for winning. If a teammate or friend beat them they may respond by ostracizing or socially punishing the victor. They’ll talk behind her back. They may complain to teammates that this girl is stuck up, conceited or too cocky. This will be done whether the victor exhibited this kind of behavior or not. I’ve talked to far too many sweet, self-effacing athletes over the years who were accused of all of these obnoxious behaviors fo! r one primary reason: They made the mistake of outperforming their friend or close teammate.
Teaching appropriate behavior around the jealousy issue requires that you as the parent have a good handle on your own feelings of insecurity. You want to help your child-athlete learn that losing should never be viewed as a threat to one’s self-esteem or identity. In order to teach this you must have your house in order so-to-speak. This means that you can’t be too tied up in the outcome of your child’s performances. If you are, their losses will tend to mean far too much to you. When your child’s failures mean too much, you will be inclined to say and do things that are inappropriate. Losses and failure should never be used to define who we are as individuals. Losing is just something that happens quite a lot whenever we make the decision to compete in sports over a long period of time. Failing is nothing more than an important part of the overall learning process i! n life.
What this means is that you must model for your child how one deals with both success and failure. Demonstrate for them how to handle a vanquished opponent. Let them see you interacting with your child’s competition and their parents. Model the behavior that you would like to see them adopt. Do the same around your child’s losses. Do not allow your child to act out feelings of jealousy. Whenever you see that kind of behavior, immediately label it as inappropriate and help your child come to terms with her feelings. When you see your child scapegoating or angrily reacting to a friend or opponent who has just beaten her, it’s your job to intervene and stop this behavior. If you turn your back on it, ignore it and just hope it will go away, then you are inadvertently colluding with and encouraging your child to continue this bad behavior.
Similarly you want to encourage your child to feel good about herself when she competes and/or strives for excellence. Help her understand that she should never have to apologize for trying to do her best in anything, even if the outcome means that someone else might feel badly as a result of her success. Remember the overall task you have with your child. You want to give her the tools so that when she grows up she can feel competent in the world and good about herself and what she does. Sports is simply an arena for kids to learn these valuable lessons.
“Handling your athlete/team’s failures”
There’s a humorous saying in the swimming world probably coined by coaches to reflect the sometimes thankless nature of their job: “Good swim, good swimmer; Bad swim, bad coach.” Translation: When a swimmer has a great performance all the credit goes to the athlete. He swam great because of his ability, talent, hard work, good strokes or perseverance. However, should that same swimmer have a terrible race, then of course all the blame for this sub-par performance must completely lie with the coach. The coach must have done something wrong. Perhaps he blew the taper or said the wrong things to the swimmer right before the race. Maybe his overall training was suspect. While some athletes and parents actually buy into this silly, one-sided belief system and are always looking to externalize blame for their failures, there are a number of coaches who have developed and live by ! their own, not so very funny version of it: “Good swim, good coach. Bad swim, bad swimmer.”
These coaches are especially quick to take responsibility for their athletes’ great performances and equally as quick to avoid any responsibility whatsoever should that same athlete or team fall apart. To these coaches a bad performance is the sole fault of someone else. They refuse to look in the mirror to examine themselves and their potential role in the failure. Their attitude is always very simple. “Had you done exactly what I taught you, then you wouldn’t have had any problems and would’ve performed the way that you were supposed to. The fact that you didn’t is clear proof that you screwed up!” These kinds of coaches are quite destructive in their defensiveness and refusal to own up to their part in a failure.
As a coach, think about what a “pleasure” it is to work with athletes who hold this kind of attitude. They never actually do anything wrong themselves. When someone should be held accountable, they are the first ones to point the finger of blame away from themselves and to everyone else. Whenever they do make a mistake they’re always there with a variety of excuses which ultimately explain their mistake away. They don’t take constructive criticism easily, if at all, because they think that they are always right. In short, these kinds of individuals are a royal pain in the butt to work with and are virtually uncoachable. No sane coach/educator who truly cares about the profession would want “high maintenance” players like that on his/her squad. They are too much of a distracting energy drain.
So put yourself in your athletes’ place for just a second. Imagine what it would be like to be playing for a coach who acted this very same way around failure and loss, a coach who was unapproachable, non-communicative, was never open to constructive feedback from others, who instead thought that he was always right, refused to take responsibility for his mistakes and was quick to place the blame on you and your teammates. There’s no question that playing for this kind of an individual would be an enjoyable experience that would greatly contribute to your love for the game, ….NOT!
Why do I want you to step into your athletes’ shoes for a second? Being empathically tuned into where your athletes are coming from is probably one of your more valuable and powerful tools as a coach. When you take the time to figure out what your athletes are going through and where they’re coming from, you will instantly become more effective with them. It will accurately instruct what you have to say and how you should say it. When you are tuned into the emotional pulse of your players and team, you will help them feel understood, listened to and, as a result, cared for. Since the glue the holds your teaching together as a coach is the quality of the relationship that you build with your players, your concern for and sensitivity to where your athletes are emotionally coming from will help you build the highest quality coach-athlete relationship possible.
Think about this for a second. Everything you know as a coach, all your experience, skills and knowledge base is only as effective and useful as the quality of the relationship that you create with each and every one of your athletes. If you alienate them, turn them off because of your impatience and disrespectful behavior, yell at them continually, deliberately play head games with them or embarrass them in front of their peers, act badly whenever they make mistakes or lose, then they will not be able to use what you have to teach them. Ultimately they will lose respect for you and then gradually tune you out.
So let’s look in the mirror for a second. Muster up the courage, set aside your ego and let’s take a close peek at how you handle failure and loss with your athletes. When your players mess up, how do you deal with it? What do you say to them? Do you seize the opportunity to patiently teach them some very valuable lessons or do you emotionally lose control and berate and humiliate them? Do you try to understand what went wrong and the emotional effect it had on them or do you immediately fly off the handle and light into them? Are you open to feedback from them around the failure or are you too caught up in your anger at their incompetence? Having an awareness of how you internally respond to failure and then how you tend to overtly deal with it with your athletes will make you a better, more effective coach. Being unaware of your emotional responses will doom you to continue to ! blindly repeat the same bad behavior over and over again.
For example, a basketball coach at a summer AAU game for 12 year olds was so upset with how poorly his team was performing that during a timeout early in the second half he angrily smashed his clipboard down on the bleachers, shattering it, and then screamed at his players, “I’m sick and tired of watching you guys make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. It’s totally pitiful! I’m too ashamed to be seen as your coach!” Whereupon he stormed out of the gym leaving his stunned players alone to finish out the game. Then there’s the head high school football coach who screamed at his players on the field right after a tough loss, “You played like a bunch of girls today. It makes me sick to even think that I have to call myself your coach. Bottom line here ladies is that you totally suck! You proved that today over and over again. You’re a tot! al embarrassment to me, our coaching staff and your school!”
The angry, belittling responses of these two coaches beg a few questions. Perhaps you can help me answer them. First off, can you tell me what these young athletes are supposed to take away from their coach’s emotional outburst? Will it motivate and inspire them to work harder? Will it build their confidence and self-esteem? Will they learn exactly what they were doing wrong and what they need to do to fix it for the future? Will they learn how to better handle their frustration around losing? Will it get them to listen more carefully to the coach the next time? I know, I’m asking silly questions. The bottom line is that these coaches did absolutely nothing constructive in their angry, infantile tirades. They publicly shamed and embarrassed their athletes, leaving them feeling awful about themselves in the process. In addition, coaches who “teach” by using abusive tac! tics ultimately leave their athletes feeling disrespectful towards the coach.
Now perhaps to each of these coaches their “well timed” temper tantrum may have seemed brilliantly macho and dramatic, a carefully choreographed intervention aimed at motivating their athletes towards a greater effort next time, a kind of “reverse psychology” if you will. However, to me, this was nothing more than bullyish, bad behavior totally unbefitting a good, youth sports coach. This is NOT how you want to deal with your frustration around failure and poor performance. It’s abusive and negative and totally lacking in anything constructive, teaching-wise.
So then why do some coaches insist on continuing to behave this way whenever their athletes fail? Perhaps some of this can be attributed to bad modeling. Maybe these coaches are just continuing to do to their athletes what was done to them when they were younger and played. Some of this bad behavior comes directly from a coach’s ego and self-worth being too tied up in their athletes’ performances. Simply put, when your ego is on the line every time your team plays, you won’t handle losing very well. And if you don’t handle losing very well, then you won’t be winning as much as you could!
When your athletes fail, what they need most from you is your patience and tolerance. They need to know that losing or messing up is not something to fear. Coaches who go ballistic whenever their athletes fail, inadvertently teach their players to worry about failing before and during the game. As you probably know, being preoccupied with screwing up while you are performing is a great way to insure that you’ll play tight and tentatively and therefore the chances that you will screw up dramatically increase. Instead, your athletes need to know from you, both verbally and nonverbally that it is OK with you if they lose, that you wonR! 17;t have a temper tantrum if they commit and error or otherwise mess up. If they don’t have to worry about your anger, if they can truly trust you to appropriately handle their failures and screw-ups, then they will be able to play loose, relaxed and fear-less.
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES
“Genghis Khan and His Hawk”
by: James Baldwin, The Book of Virtues
One morning Genghis Khan, the great king and warrior, rode out into the woods to have a day’s sport. Many of his friends were with him. They rode out happily, carrying their bows and arrows. Behind them came the servants with the hounds. It was a merry hunting party. The woods rang with their shouts and laughter. They expected to carry much game home in the evening. On the king’s wrist sat his favorite hawk, for in those days hawks were trained to hunt. At a word from their masters they would fly high up into the air, and look around for prey. If they chanced to see a deer or a rabbit, they would swoop down upon it swift as any arrow.
All day long Genghis Khan and his huntsmen rode through the woods. But they did not find as much game as they expected. Toward evening they started for home. The king had often ridden through the woods, and he knew all the paths. So while the rest of the party took the nearest way, he went by a longer road through a valley between two mountains. The day had been warm, and the king was very thirsty. His pet hawk left his wrist and had flown away. It would be sure to find its way home.
The king rode slowly along. He had once seen a spring of clear water near this pathway. If he could only find it now! But the hot days of summer had dried up all the mountain brooks. At last, to his joy, he saw some water trickling down over the edge of a rock. He knew that there was a spring farther up. In the wet season, a swift stream of water always poured down here; but now it came only one drop at a time.
The king leaped from his horse. He took a little silver cup from his hunting bag. He held it so as to catch the slowly falling drops. It took a long time to fill the cup; and the king was so thirsty that he could hardly wait. At last it was nearly full. He put the cup to his lips, and was about to drink.
All at once there was a whirring sound in the air, and the cup was knocked from his hands. The water was all spilled upon the ground. The king looked up to see who had done this thing. It was his pet hawk. The hawk flew back and forth a few times, and then alighted among the rocks by the spring. The king picked up the cup, and again held it to catch the trickling drops. This time he did not wait so long. When the cup was half full, he lifted it toward his mouth. But before it had touched his lips, the hawk swooped down again, and knocked it from his hands.
And now the king began to grow angry. He tried again, and for the third time the hawk kept him from drinking. The king was now very angry indeed. “How do you dare to act so?” he cried. “If I had you in my hands, I would wring your neck!” Then he filled his cup again. But before he tried to drink, he drew his sword. “Now, Sir Hawk,” he said, “that is the last time.”
He had hardly spoken before the hawk swooped down and knocked the cup from his hand. But the king was looking for this. With a quick sweep of the sword he struck the bird as it passed. The next moment the poor hawk lay bleeding and dying at its master’s feet. “That is what you get for your pains,” said Genghis Khan. But when he looked for his cup, he found that it had fallen between two rocks, where he could not reach it.
“At any rate, I will have a drink from that spring,” he said to himself. With that he began to climb the steep bank to the place from which the water trickled. It was hard work, and the higher he climbed, the thirstier he became. At last he reached the place. There indeed was a pool of water; but what was that lying in the pool, and almost filling it? It was a huge, dead snake of the most poisonous kind. The king stopped. He forgot his thirst. He thought only of the poor dead bird lying on the ground below him. “The hawk saved my life!” he cried, “and how did I repay him? He was my best friend, and I have killed him.”
He clambered down the bank. He took the bird up gently, and laid it in his hunting bag. Then he mounted his horse and rode swiftly home. He said to himself, “I have learned a sad lesson today, and that is, never to do anything in anger.”
This is a common problem in our lives. Competitive sport is often an emotional roller coaster. It’s a highly evocative experience that frequently pulls all sorts of emotions from deep within us. As an athlete, parent and coach, it’s absolutely critical that you get a handle on the anger and intense emotions that get stimulated by tough losses and failures. Remember, when you let your anger steer your ship, you’ll end up on the rocks! Speak when you are angry and you will give the best speech that you ever regret.
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