Stay calm and endure, even when everything is against you

Sport and resilience have always gone together. It is almost as if one expects the underdogs to defy the odds when they are faced with formidable foes.

This week was no different, with at least three stories of resilience involving sport.

The first two are obvious: Kevin Anderson’s comeback victory against defending champion, Roger Federer to take him into the semi-finals at Wimbledon; and Croatia’s come-from-behind victory over England in the Fifa World Cup semi-final.

If both Anderson and Croatia did nothing else in their sporting careers, they would have done more than many others before them in their home countries.

Anderson was two sets to love down to Federer, who has been playing some of the most sublime tennis. Despite this loss, Federer will be considered the greatest tennis player of all time. Tennis statisticians have been trying to find information on whether anyone has ever come back in such a dramatic fashion against Federer, at his favourite venue, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Croatia went a goal down to England early in their game and they managed to take the game into extra time by scoring late in the second half. They scored again in extra time to secure a well-deserved and hard-fought 2-1 victory. In the process, the underdogs beat the favoured England team, who many had expected to face France in the final tomorrow.

Croatia’s Luka Modric. Photo:Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

But the greatest story of sporting endurance this week took place inside the flooded Tham Luang cave in mountainous northern Thailand where 12 young soccer players between 11 and 16 years old and their coach had been trapped for more than two weeks.

They were rescued in a daring mission which cost the life of at least one person who tried to help save them. Thai Navy Seal, Major General Saman Gunan, died bringing in oxygen tanks at the start of the rescue effort.

People from many countries were involved in the rescue attempts, including England, Australia, China, Japan, Sweden, Myanmar, Laos and the US, in a way showing that we can achieve more through international co-operation than confrontation.

The boys, part of a soccer team, known as the Wild Boars, survived in the flooded cave with limited supplies and inspired by their 25-year-old coach, Ekkapol Chantawong. The world rejoiced when the news broke that all the boys had been saved.

Unlike at Wimbledon and the World Cup, where players have to show perseverance, everyone involved in the Thai cave rescue had to display determination which went way beyond the norm.

One of the major lessons to learn from all three examples is the need to remain calm when everything appears to be working against you.

Anderson would have needed this at two sets down, Croatia would have needed this at a goal down and the young Thai boys would have needed this when more than a week had gone by without them being discovered.

Often, when one panics in a crisis, it only serves to make things worse. But the biggest lesson is that teamwork is better than individualism.

The Croatia team stuck to their game plan, despite going behind, without any individual players trying to do things on their own. And even though tennis is an individual sport, Anderson would have been mindful of the plan he had devised with his support team.

The Thai youngsters survived by sharing limited resources and caring for each other under the supervision of their coach, who has been hailed as a hero for keeping the group focused.

It is good if we can learn lessons from stories of sporting endurance and, in the case of the Thai boys, human endurance. It is easy to give up when things start going wrong, but it often requires something beyond normal to keep up hope.

Imagine if Anderson had given up after two sets and accepted that he was going to lose to one of the greatest players in the world.

Imagine if Croatia had accepted that they would not be able to recover from being a goal down.

Imagine if everyone involved in the Thai cave rescue had decided that the mission was too difficult, and accepted that the boys could not be saved.

A friend of mine always says that everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not the end. I suppose this is the major lesson to take from this week’s stories of sporting and non-sporting endurance.

As long as we don’t give up hope, we can always overcome.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 14 July 2018)