The bad loser, the mentally agitated man, is always saying: ‘I am off my game today.’ I once made an enemy for life, when I was young, and even more tactless than I am today, by answering a man who said this: ‘No, this is your game. You nearly always play like this.’ And so he did. He knew from experience that he could play well, but he hardly ever did, and his idea was that he was somehow off his game that day. The fact was that his game was the same almost every time; the occasional fine performance only occurred when his mind was calm.

We have a sort of myth, in competitive sports, that you have to be in a rage in order to get the necessary adrenaline going. But that is not so – people in a rage lose their judgement. In a fairly limited sphere it may not matter so much, but in any activity where there is complexity, judgement is essential. If you have ever seen a man in a rage, however skilful he is normally, if he is in a temper you will see him torn to pieces by a calm technician, and that is a terrible sight. Of course, sometimes the technician is overwhelmed by the raging opponent, and the angry man wins, but if the technician can keep his balance, his calm, and his patience, this is unlikely, for the angry man cannot wait, and runs into the trap.

Expert boxers often don’t do well in a brawl, because the opponents don’t keep to the rules. One such boxer said: ‘If the other man picks up a chair and rushes, there is not a lot I can do. I have to do something very quickly before he can think of anything like that, so I spit in his face, and he comes rushing forwards onto my fist.’

© 1999 Trevor Leggett

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