Game, Set and Mismatch: Is Djokovic missing the point?

Novak Djokovic

Prize money should be “fairly distributed” according to “who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets”

In the name of fairness, before I get stuck into this topic I do want to spare a thought for Novak Djokovic. He probably just wanted to answer a few questions about the tournament he’d won, humbly pay his beaten opponent some compliments and get out of the press room to enjoy his victory. Instead – and with no small thanks to the idiotic comments of the Indian Wells tournament CEO – a journalist threw him a grenade. Novak was tired and sweaty and his footwork hadn’t let him down all week. But instead of a deft sidestep, a “No comment,” or an “I don’t really want to talk about that right now,” he slipped. He’s allowed to voice his opinion, of course. It’s just that an opinion on this particular topic is always going to cause a bit of a stir.

As usual, I’m not planning to burn my bra or march to Westminster over this. Djokovic’s words might hold some truth and I think it’s important to consider these arguments too. On the face of it, there is a certain degree of logic to his answer. As an entertainment-hungry public, we are prepared to pay a premium to see superstars perform. It would be good to have a situation where lower ranked performers find themselves in a more financially viable position to climb the ladder, but it’s pretty easy to admit I’d pay more to watch a top player than an average one. There’s no doubt that supply and demand have an impact on sportspeople’s earning potential – if you attract more attention, maybe you should be paid more. However, I’d argue that ultimately this is more about your profile as an athlete and your ability to attract endorsements. We’re talking about prize money – should the ‘attention’ you receive really impact on how much you’re paid in the same way your results do?

Of course, it’s still going to be a bit difficult for many people to digest without raising an eyebrow. Does a man who has now earned almost $100 million in career prize money alone need an extra few hundred thousand dollars here or there? The counter argument is easy: you should be paid what you deserve. Top tennis players work in an arena where enormous financial rewards are available. Don’t forget that as spectators, we create this by paying for Sky TV and devouring the sports pages – but the ‘morality’ of this lucrative environment is a discussion for another time.

For me, the biggest discussions Djoko’s comments raise are around this concept of fairness. How can we measure “fair distribution” accurately? Should we rely on a stereotypical inclination to assume that more people buy tickets to watch men’s tennis, or should we focus on the fact that the women’s 2015 US Open final sold out more quickly than the men’s? Every single Grand Slam singles final for both genders is always played in front of a capacity crowd. As spectators, do we bank on a battle between Djokovic and Andy Murray being better, or do we buy into the frequently enthralling unpredictability of a match in the women’s tournament?
…An erudite friend of mine summed that up perfectly: “While I love Andy Murray as much as the next one-eyed Scot, the men’s [2016] Aussie Open final was worth about a fiver. The women’s final, on the other hand, was an absolute cracker.”

The other problem as I see it is that Djokovic’s statement is too focused on ‘now’. Let’s imagine a world where men and women live, work, speak, aspire and are perceived completely equally. In that world, if men’s tennis truly generates more attention and sells more tickets, then maybe it would be reasonable to consider allocating prize money on the basis of gender. But we don’t live in that world. It’s all well and good making an offhand statement that people prefer men’s tennis, but whether or not it is true, in an environment where it’s still pushed more, broadcast more, talked about more, that doesn’t automatically mean it should be “worth” more. And perhaps more importantly, shouldn’t we be concerned about creating and supporting an environment that allows change and enables players’ potential to be realised regardless of their gender?

A great rivalry, an intense battle or a superhuman performance on a sports field isn’t determined by whether you’re a man or a woman. At the moment though, the number of column inches and the amount of discussion about these things does tend to be shaped by the gender of the players involved. Maybe as the guy who wins the most tournaments and sells more than his fair share of tickets, Djokovic has a legitimate claim that money in tennis could be allocated more fairly according to these criteria. But is that because he’s Novak Djokovic, or because he’s a man? Without a magical way to measure what ‘fairly’ really means in tennis, sport and on a wider scale, life, I’d argue that gender simply isn’t a wise yardstick to use.

A 5-Minute Guide to Planning the Best Day of Your Life

 

Wedding planning

I don’t know if you can be considered an expert after planning a grand total of one wedding. However, having had what can only be described as a bloody good time at ours, I thought I would share a few bits of advice that may come in handy for anyone thinking about getting hitched.

A simple Internet search brings up pages of daunting introductions and long checklists. “Twelve months before the big day…”, “The organisation can be overwhelming”, “For the wedding of your dreams, don’t forget…”. Serious stuff, it seems. But here’s my advice: relax. I had probably spent approximately 3 seconds of my life picturing my dream wedding day before getting engaged. It was pretty easy to figure out that we wanted a chilled wedding and that also meant the last thing we wanted to do was get stressed planning it.

About 4 months before the big day, I was asked where our wedding folder was. “What, this?” I said, opening our single page spreadsheet. **nerd alert** I quite like Excel. I plan my training, I play fantasy league and I like To Do lists. None of this geekiness was reflected in our wedding planning. I can genuinely say that the only time I felt remotely stressed was during a 10-minute window on December 31st when we realised we had forgotten to pick up our brownies i.e. “The Cake”. And to be honest that was mainly because I was worrying the lady at the bakery was missing out on a NYE party. (#browniegate was fine in the end although I forgot to eat one on the day as I was having too much fun dancing…)

Speaking of dancing… I am an occasionally enthusiastic but unskilled dancer. If you’re cursed with two left feet – or in our case, four – don’t feel like you have to do a first dance. It’s up to you which traditions you buy into.

Here’s a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Booking the ‘big things’ early – like a place to get married, someone to marry you (I mean a registrar/celebrant, not a partner), something to eat – definitely means you can chill later… And write down what you’ve booked and paid for as you go along.
  2. What’s your main priority? Ours was having fun, in case you haven’t guessed. We referred to our wedding as “the party” throughout.
  3. If you want to save money, recruit a couple of creative friends, collect jam jars and ribbons, go to Hobbycraft and discover your inner arts and crafts elf.
  4. If you want a good party, you need good music. The band/DJ is key. Google is your friend.
  5. We aren’t particularly comfortable in front of a camera and having a photographer who makes you feel at ease is important. The smiling all day part was pretty easy, even for someone with a slight case of resting bitch face

Having successfully consumed an early glass of Winter Pimms without any spillages, I stuck to clear drinks thereafter: Prosecco, champagne, sparkling water, sambuca. Varying levels of classiness there, but what the hell – my dress survived and so did I.

Finally, for the first and probably last time ever I am going to offer up some fashion advice: Be yourself. For me, that meant choose a dress in half an hour and indulge my trainer fetish. Yes, you want to look pretty/beautiful/suave etc. But I would have looked ridiculous if I had worn too much makeup. And what can I say? I look good in trainers.

A wedding can quickly become pretty expensive, so of course some planning can be very important. But remember – it’s your day. Even if you’re getting some help paying for it, it’s your love you’re celebrating (thankfully, I didn’t get close to saying a line that cheesy on the day) so try to do it your way. Figure out what ‘your way’ is… if it means elaborate flower arrangements and a big white dress, go for it. If it means a pair of trainers and a load of your mates dancing in a barn, that’s okay too. Have fun!

A slightly smug 3-minute story about meeting David Beckham

#Becks&Bex

Maybe I should chase down world famous people more often. I’m vaguely disappointed with myself for bragging/writing a blog/getting so excited about spending approximately 20 seconds with David (pretty sure we’re on first name terms now?), but then I just think to myself ‘WHO CARES? I MET DAVID BECKHAM!’

How did this all happen? Becks was watching his son Cruz play in a prep schools rugby tournament at Wellington College, the school where I work as a hockey coach. He had turned up with his puppy yesterday morning looking very ‘hunting and fishing’, and inevitably the word got out. I was torn between intense jealousy (one of my colleagues had managed to get a good photo) and the guilt / cringeworthiness of intruding on him being a good supportive dad. I say torn… I jumped in the car two hours early on the off-chance I could stalk him down on the school pitches.

I apologise for the shameless name-dropping I’m about to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few people you might consider to be famous. Wolf and Lightning from Gladiators (this totally counts for anyone who grew up in the 90s), Tim Henman, Kelly Holmes… When I was 11, I presented Princess Anne with flowers and then in a totally unrelated incident I found myself having dinner with her at Buckingham Palace 15 years later. I should mention that others were also present – it wasn’t a candlelit meal for two or anything. Anyway, these all pale in comparison to meeting Becks. Whether I think about it from the point of view of a lifelong Man United supporter, a sports fan, a sometime-charitable-donor, someone with the power of sight, I come to the same conclusion: The man is a god.

It’s quite nerve-wracking meeting God, as it turns out. A few metres away and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to stop him from watching his son for the five hundredth time that day. Heart rate through the roof. Hands shaking. And once I pulled myself together and asked for a picture, I realised I was suffering from a temporary loss of brain function in the overwhelming excitement and couldn’t remember how my iPhone camera worked.

Most asked question: Does he smell good?
Answer: I don’t know. I think I forgot to breathe.

Never have I been so relieved at keeping my eyes open in a picture. I asked how Cruz’s team was getting on (1% out of genuine interest, 99% out of an awkward desire to keep my special moment with Becks going for a little bit longer). I am concerned I might have winked as I thanked him for the photo. Or was it him that winked? Let’s say it was him.

Don’t worry – I’m acting like myself again this morning rather than some kind of crazed David Beckham stalker. That is to say, I’ve only looked at the picture on my phone a couple of times rather than every five minutes.

Changing the Game: Why Sport Needs Mavericks

Jonah Lomu

I woke up this morning to the sad news that Jonah Lomu has passed away aged only 40. Glowing tributes for Lomu have since been pouring in: “legend”, “gentleman”, “special”, “inspirational”. These words are not being used lightly – this was the man who changed the face of rugby union.

Meanwhile, Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson this week announced his international retirement. Described by many as the best fast bowler of his generation, Johnson could be woeful or brilliant. He was both ridiculed and feared. As Tom Fordyce, chief BBC sports writer says, “The firm rule in Johnson’s career had always been to expect the unexpected.”

And what of Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The talismanic striker struck two goals last night in Sweden’s victory over Scandinavian rivals Denmark, ensuring their qualification for Euro 2016. After the match, Ibrahimovic claimed, “[the Danes] said they were going to send me to retirement. I sent their whole nation into retirement.”

For anyone who is familiar with my fundamental philosophies about sport, it won’t come as much of a surprise that in general, I have a soft spot for sportspeople I consider to be mavericks. I love watching top performers expressing themselves, being creative and taking risks.

However, I don’t necessarily believe these qualities alone are always enough to mean a player should be selected. Work ethic, group dynamics and contributing positively to the team environment may all have relative degrees of importance that need consideration. Think of Kevin Pietersen. His exclusion from the England Cricket set-up was highly controversial, but I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t his cricketing ability that had the question mark next to it. Do I think KP is unbelievably good at cricket? Yes. Would I pick him? I’m not so sure.

Mavericks exist in different guises across the world of sport. They’re pioneers and superstars for different reasons. When I was younger, Eric Cantona, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho set the football world alight with their skills; fast-forward to 2015 and we have Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronda Rousey and Nicola Adams are pioneers in UFC and boxing because they are breaking new ground for women in combat sports. Serena Williams plays tennis with a combination of skill, speed and power that no other female player can consistently get close to – and she’s done it for fifteen years. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have transformed men’s tennis, bringing previously unseen levels of athleticism and skill. Argentina’s Luciana Aymar was an eight-time winner of the World Hockey Player of the Year award for good reason – she’s a game-changing magician with a hockey stick in hand.

I absolutely agree when coaches say that good basics are key, and that the best players execute fundamental skills extremely well. Some coaches inwardly translate this to a preference for predictable players, people that might be described as reliable and dependable. Maybe every team needs these players to a certain degree to allow creativity to flourish elsewhere. However, the problem when coaches overemphasise ‘reliable and dependable’ is that it can stop players reading the situation in front of them. In many sports, patterns of play and team understanding are very important. But what do these things really mean in the heat of battle? So often, the ultimate success of a team is down to the player(s) who can change a game.

In simple terms, I believe there are three characteristics that game-changers combine that make them different:
1. Technically highly capable of executing a range of skills
2. Imagination, creativity, the ability to see a situation in several different ways
3. Making good decisions about which skills to use based on the situation

What I’m really getting at here is that sometimes using the ‘difficult skill’ is actually the best decision. The situation may dictate that while a technique might seem flash or hard to execute, it’s actually the perfect time to go for it. When Messi scores by chipping the goalkeeper, it’s because 1. he can; 2. his eyes are open to the opportunity; and 3. he generally knows when is the time to try. It doesn’t mean it’s always the right option (could he pass to a team mate for a tap in?) but fluffing the chance didn’t mean it was the wrong option either.

The other thing that is obvious (but often forgotten) is that ‘difficult’ skills become easier when you practise them! I doubt KP hit a reverse sweep boundary in a test match having never tried it in the nets. Nadia Comaneci may have innovated gymnastics, but her perfect 10s were born in training, long before she was thrust into the Olympic limelight.

The problem with my approach, is that if and when things go wrong – which they inevitably do sometimes – there’s always somebody ready to jump on the sporting maverick’s back. My counter-argument is that we need to be imaginative when we watch, coach and analyse sport too. Pause the tape. Try to see the situation through the player’s eyes before you judge. What did they see? What didn’t they see? And perhaps most importantly: Was it the easy option, or the right option?

Just as rugby needed Jonah Lomu, sport needs mavericks. Without the pioneers who see and do something different, every game would be the same.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford

Follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling

 

Giant Killings and Unlikely Heroes: Are Shock Results Good for Sport?

Sporting Shocks

Sporting shocks remind us that even the most successful players and teams aren’t invincible. The possibility of an unexpected result gives us a reason to back the underdog and a chance to celebrate the against-the-odds story. Sometimes we can be most inspired by the seemingly unrealistic dreams of an unlikely hero, because they make us feel like anything is possible.

Last week, my Surbiton team lost a domestic hockey game for the first time in over 18 months. It wasn’t a top of the table clash or a playoff final – we were defeated in the second round of our National Cup defence by Barnes, a side who play several league divisions below us. Of course, this is what the ‘magic of a cup run’ is all about: David vs Goliath, giant killings and the underdog progressing against the odds. This result might not make headline news outside the world of English hockey, but it’s definitely an outcome that surprised a few people.

On a wider scale, a shock can become the unforgettable or defining moment of a sports event. Despite the All Blacks’ record breaking victory, in some ways the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be best remembered for Japan’s astonishing last-gasp victory over South Africa in the pool stages. Germany’s 2014 Football World Cup victory was amazing, but I think I’ll remember it more for their 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi final. What about Greece winning Euro 2004? They started the tournament as 150-1 outsiders who had never won a game in a major tournament.

Of course sometimes a little shock can be the precursor to a seismic shift in sporting power. There’s a reason we talk about new stars ‘exploding’ onto the scene. Roger Federer had to start somewhere… when he beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, perhaps it seemed like a tremor. In the following decade, that tremor became a tsunami of Grand Slam titles and tour victories.

Shocks definitely provide some good material for headline writers. Unless a lucky punter wins a huge, unexpected payout, most of the time they’re not too bad for the bookies either. And for a player or team who wins against the odds, it might just be the best experience they ever have in a sporting arena.

Of course, if you’re on the wrong end of a shock result, it’s not a very nice feeling. In addition to the disappointment of defeat, you often have to deal with a bit of embarrassment too. However, I believe that the greatest sportspeople are humble in victory and gracious in defeat. So learn lessons and try not to let it happen again – but when you shake hands with the opponent who has just handed you a shock defeat, look them in the eye and mean it when you congratulate them.

There’s a kind of raw beauty to the feeling of shocking yourself. This can happen at every level of sport. You might surprise yourself by managing to finish a tough work out, by reaching the top of a hill without getting off your bike, by completing a run more quickly than you thought you could. At Olympic level, I’ll never forget Kelly Holmes’ face when it dawned on her that she had won 800m gold at Athens 2004. More recently, the wide-eyed disbelief of lightweight rowers Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland when they realised, “We’ve won the Olympics!” was a defining image of London 2012.

For me, that’s why sport needs shocks. It’s not about headlines or big wins at the bookies. It’s about how seemingly unbelievable outcomes can make us feel, irrespective of whether we are watching or competing. It’s about those moments that make your heart jump and your eyes pop out of your head. Sometimes magic happens when you least expect it.

Seeing the Positives in Social Media

The modern world

Just as I thought I’d made a decision to try to embrace social media a little better, I saw a photograph that sums up the world we now live in. You’ve probably seen it too – it went viral, which was simultaneously powerful and ironic. In the picture (which you can see at the top of this post), a large crowd of people watches an event. Everyone is capturing the moment on a smart phone. All except one lady that is, who watches on with her actual eyes rather than through a screen. This hasn’t made me rethink my decision exactly, but it has made me think a little more about the good, the bad and the ugly of social media.

Let’s start off with a few statistics. It is estimated that globally, the number of people who are active on Facebook at least once a month is now 1.5 billion. That’s about 20% of the world’s population. Twitter and Instagram both have over 300 million monthly users. I’m stating the blindingly obvious when I say that social media is a huge, influential and growing part of our daily lives.

There’s an obvious irony in the phrase ‘social media’. Whilst the various platforms enable us to communicate, connect and share experiences, most of us have at some point looked up to realise that we are sitting with a group of other people and none of us are doing those things in ‘real life’. What usually happens next? Someone makes a comment along the lines of, “Well we’re sociable today aren’t we?” followed by everyone muttering, “Ha ha, yes, it’s terrible isn’t it,” before gazing back down at the screens in front of them.

Technology does and always has changed the way people live. Whilst it’s true that ‘big news’ – whether that’s a friend’s engagement/pregnancy/graduation, or the latest political, sports or entertainment bombshell – now spreads across the world via digital platforms, once upon a time developments like the printing press, wireless radio and television revolutionised the way in which information was communicated. A quick status update is an easy and efficient way to spread news instantly. I suppose the problem is that depending on the news, the rest of the world (or even your friends and family) might not actually be that bothered… but they’re forced to see it anyway.

This is where my own opinion about what’s interesting and what isn’t starts to get in the way. I know the only way I can avoid this is by steering clear of social media entirely… but there are some things I’m just not interested in. Depressing (or worse still, cryptic and depressing) Facebook statuses, incendiary political tweets, corny selfies or anything to do with the Kardashians sometimes make me want to delete the whole Internet. Equally, I’m aware that articles about sport or philosophy and videos of cute kittens/puppies falling off items of furniture don’t appeal to everyone, but at least they intrigue or amuse me. The challenge, the lesson, the issue – whatever you want to call it – is in filtering the things you do and don’t want to see on social media without wasting your entire life doing it.

I also read an interesting article about the use of Instagram this week. The writer was arguing that people are so obsessed with creating a perfect ‘insta-world’ that we aren’t documenting life as it really looks and feels. As a recent convert to Instagram, I understand the rationale behind this idea, but I think if you flip it around it can probably help us focus on the positives too. I believe that looking for a ‘photo opportunity’ can help you to look at the world in different ways: it can make you see the beautiful in the mundane or the tiny detail in the bigger picture. Creating a photo can actually make an experience more fun or memorable. Maybe on some level it does make me want to have some kind of pseudo insta-life where I’m having fun and amazing experiences all the time. The key thing is though, if that’s what I’m trying to represent, I’m also more likely to try and make that a reality.

Ultimately, social media can both bring us together and tear us apart. I think I’m starting to figure out my own attitude towards it: I don’t want to spend more time looking at a screen than interacting with the world around me and I don’t want to miss out on experiencing something because I’m too busy trying to record a diluted version of it to look at later. In fact maybe it’s a bit like writing this blog. I want to use it in a way that makes me and others smile or think. The fact is, like that lady in the picture, in order to experience, capture and share special moments through authentic words or powerful images, I have to have my eyes open to see them happening in the first place.

And now, the ironic plug… don’t forget to follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling or instagram @herbie17

Kiwi Adventures 2015: Weeks 3 and 4

Kiwi Adventures Weeks 3-4

“There and Back Again…”
This is the equivalent of that postcard you scribble out on the flight home and pop in the postbox along the road from your own house. I reckon it’s a pretty good sign when you’re having too much fun on your travels to find the time to write about it…

“Not all those who wander are lost…” J.R.R. Tolkien

After an adrenaline-fuelled first couple of weeks swinging off bridges and rafting down rapids, I got behind the wheel once again and did some road-tripping. After playing a game in one of my favourite places in NZ, Taupo – we’ll gloss over the hockey for now – I continued through the North Island up to Tauranga. Having (theoretically) ‘grown up’ in Jersey, I have good reason for being a bit of a beach snob. However, after trekking up the summit path of Mount Maunganui in the sunshine to look down on the white sand of Maunganui beach, I can safely say that this place ticks some serious boxes. It’s pretty mindblowing to look out across the ocean knowing that the next landmass is Chile – about 6000 miles away.

One of the awesome things about this trip has been having the chance to catch up with friends – Brits abroad and Kiwi mates who live further away than I would like them to. The day after Tauranga, I also managed to pop in and visit my fantasy cousins in the Shire. Maybe this just makes me a weird Lord of the Rings nut, but there’s something pretty magical about going in a hobbit hole and drinking a cheeky (hobbit-sized) beer in the Green Dragon Inn. A hike up to Wairere Falls and our brilliant day in Middle Earth was complete.

Time flies when you’re having fun and 2000km of road-tripping later, tournament week in Whangerei, Northland was suddenly around the corner. We stayed in a beautiful location in Tutukaka and relaxation is pretty important when you take on the challenge of seven games in nine days. The standard of hockey was definitely better than last year and the ‘Central Caterpillars’ and I gave it everything. We essentially just missed out on a semi-final place by one goal, leaving us all gutted. Having said that, it was a brilliant week – we played some exciting hockey and I loved being part of such a fun and gutsy team. It’s always great to have the chance to step out alongside top players you’ve admired as an opponent, but it’s also nice to see younger players making their first mark on the game at a high level. I hope I’ll get another chance to wear the Central colours…

After the tournament, I gatecrashed the winners’ party (thanks for having me Auckland!), caught up with more friends and did a final bit of exploring with my trusty tour guide and general legend, Jules. Most of our travels usually seem to revolve around food but as well as filling our boots we fitted in a day trip to Waiheke island for more beach wandering and a stunning winery, a morning at Takapuna Beach on the North Shore, and a very windy view across Auckland from One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park.

After another amazing adventure with some amazing people, it was finally time to set off on the long journey home. The really, really long journey. I’m very happy to be safely back home with the boy and feel ready for the special and exciting few months ahead. But there’s just something about New Zealand that makes me feel like a little part of me belongs there too.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The Lord of the Rings

 

Find me on twitter @inkingfeeling and Instagram @herbie17 for updates…