Elly McDonald



A few thoughts on winning – Part 1 (8 August 2014)

I know you’re not interested in football. I’ll assume that. But my thoughts for today are inspired by a short clip of two footballers in conversation and competition – Steve Johnson (“Stevie J”) of the Geelong Cats vs Brendon Goddard (“BJ”) of the Essendon Bombers, late of the St Kilda Saints, teeing off in an informal ‘combat’ of golf tricks upmanship.

Brendon Goddard and Steve Johnson


I say “combat” because these two men are naturally combative. Hyper competitive. Stevie J is the football wizard of Kardinia Park, winner of the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground in the Cats’ drought-breaking 2007 AFL Grand Final win and a mainstay of the Cats’ dominance since. Brendon Goddard was voted second for the Norm Smith (behind teammate Lenny Hayes) for the 2010 drawn grand final against Collingwood. His high-flying mark, an out and out screamer, midway through the final quarter resulted in a goal that had the Saints, who had trailed all day, poised to win. When the Saints lost the rematch the following week, he wept inconsolably.

These men are warriors. It’s not pc, and not strictly accurate, to label them thus, as clearly men kicking a leather ball on a playing field is not equivalent to soldiers laying their lives on the line. But I don’t take it back. These are the prototypical men who, in times gone by, would have led close quarters combat, would have killed, would have stood between their communities and annihilation, and inspired. These men are fighters. In a society that is not at war on its home soil, they symbolically enact combat and heroism.

Heroes. There’s another non-pc application. There’s much debate about whether sports men and women can be considered role models, let alone held up as “heroes”. There are many, many individuals and groups in our communities who engage day in and out in extraordinary endeavours, addressing significant challenges, on behalf of others. Most of these people get little, if any, public recognition. They are heroes, and the public understanding of the term “role model” would benefit from an expanded definition that puts these people on par – pun intended – with the likes of Stevie J and Brendon Goddard.

But, I insist, the inspirational warriors of high profile sports are heroes nonetheless.

Why do I say this?

You could dismiss it as a consequence of a childhood education in which my earliest reading matter featured Edwardian retellings of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as written for children. (With fabulous Art Nouveau line drawings. Followed by retellings published in the early 60s, also with fabulous illustrations, this time in colour.) From Homer I ‘graduated’ to Norse legends. Warriors massed and solo. Combat glorious and ugly. Brutal, grim. Fatalistic. Heroic epic: my lens on life.

Maybe. But I do see sports “warriors” as role models, precisely because I see them as inspirational.

What Stevie J and BJ represent is: never give up.

Put all your efforts into building your skills and work with your team for one objective: to win – as in, to overcome challenges. To battle whatever is thrown at you and come out triumphant. Still standing.

I had a mentor whose advice was to watch champions. See how they tackle adversity. Observe how they take the blows and regroup, re-set.

I take that advice and I also listen up to what champions say. Winston Churchill is particularly relatable: “Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”, he wrote. And again, “Success is not secure. Failure is never final.”

Anonymous contributes, “Success is not giving up. Failure is giving up too soon.”

Also from Anonymous (legendary Greek seer and poet):

Failure doesn’t mean you have accomplished nothing.
It does mean you have learned something.
Failure doesn’t mean you have been a fool.
It does mean you had a lot of faith.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ve been disgraced.
It does mean you were willing to try.
Failure doesn’t mean you don’t have it.
It does mean you are not perfect.
Failure doesn’t mean you have wasted your life.
It does mean you have a reason to start afresh.
Failure doesn’t mean you should give up.
It does mean you must try harder.
Failure doesn’t mean you’ll never make it.
It does mean it will take a little longer.
Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure.
It does mean you haven’t succeeded yet.

When I was a young teen, I met a boy aged about 15 whose father is a household name in Australia as a leader of the Olympics movement. The father was an Olympics silver medallist. His son grew up to compete at national and international levels as a Rugby Union player for both Australia and France. I met him again as an adult when he was a conspicuously young CEO of a Top 10 UK advertising agency. From there he went on to CEO and president positions, based in the USA, for major advertising groups. He’s currently CEO of the International Rugby Board (his brother is on the Executive Board of the International Ski Federation).

What I recall about Brett is that he would not give up.

That day we met, we played table tennis in my parents’ garage. It was an epic match. In those days I was pretty good at table tennis, by garage standards, but when it came to will to win, Brett was ferocious. He would not be beat.

“Never give up” is not the same as “Winning is everything”. There are people in business, in politics – and in sports – who believe in “Whatever it takes”. Those of us in Australia who follow AFL (the Australian Football League) will recognise that slogan as the motto of Essendon Football Club in 2013, the year its ill-conceived and unregulated drugs supplements program blew up publicly (predating Brendon Goddard’s transfer to the club).

Why would it matter, not giving up? Surely there’s a time to win, and a time to lose gracefully? A time to triumph, and a time to accept defeat? And what about the aikido principle, using minimal force to turn the momentum of the forces that oppose us back on themselves?

The aikido principle is simply a tactic for overcoming. A counter-intuitive tactic, in our culture, but nonetheless a means to surmount.

And the notion of a time for all things is a strategy for winning, too. “A time to accept defeat”, a time to be with the experience of failure, is another way of saying “respite”.

Respite is a valid tactic. Rest when needed. Then get back up and get out there.

Stand up.