Between Winning and Losing – the thin line!

Sport is a great platform for revealing some of life’s best lessons.

Theoretically, at an early age, we are introduced to sport as play, to enjoy and celebrate the right and freedom to demonstrate our skills and physical endowments. In practice and with time we discover the higher the goals and targets we can achieve and set out to excel, to be the best we can be and to win against competition! In the course of our journey we discover winning and losing, the exhilaration in winning and the agony in losing. It soon dawns on us that they coexist and are inevitable, that we must experience both because winning and losing are Siamese twins – they go together hand and hand! At the highest level of sport we also discover sport’s greatest secret – that the difference between winning and losing is a very thin line measured in microseconds and millimeters, in fleeting moments, and in a hair’s breadth! We learn that crossing that thin line is both a sports person’s greatest challenge and his greatest frustration. It is a distance so near and yet so far. Why? Because although the reward is measured in fractions of a second or a millimeter, or a few additional baskets or goals, the road he has to travel to achieve these fractions is long, hard and lonely, it is a Marathon race requiring years and years of hardship, hard work, endless rehearsals, uncommon patience, single-mindedness, perseverance, luck, self-discipline, dedication, sweat, tears and blood! Even at the end of that road there is no guarantee he would succeed or win! Take a medal at the Olympics for example. For an athlete the route to a possible Olympic medal is a serious minimum 8 to 10 years journey! It is an odyssey that takes him through a threshold without which the thin line cannot be crossed!

Permit me to read a page from my book of personal experience. When I was appointed the Chairman of the National Institute for Sports in 2001 my first project was to seek guidance from a successful model in authentic athlete development. The most renowned at the time was the Australian Institute of Sports, AIS. We engaged the AIS to design a workable blueprint to rescue Nigerian sport from the abyss into which he had sunk and to guide it to achieve its well-acknowledged global potential. The assignment took two years of travels back and forth Australia the vastness of the Pacific, plenty of research work, conversations and visits across Nigeria, and a final 10-year development document, a road map that would produce potential medalists at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. The athletes were to be identified and assembled in 2004 at about 16 years of age. That means a 12-year programme that would have provided the needed impetus to make them cross the thin line to shave off fractions from running times, or increase heights or lengths by a few millimetres, or improve shooting skills a notch, or add an ounce of essential muscle to improve throws, or pep up the psychology to embrace endless training and the accompanying failures as the tonic to go on, to aim even higher, farther and faster, and to imbibe a new spirit! In short, crossing the thin line requires the mentality of a successful marathon runner where the only short cut is to cover the distance. Any other way is short lived, pyrrhic and unsustainable. That is the thin line in sport.

Government and the Thin line!

Sport is really a metaphor for life. As it is in sport so it is in governance. I am looking at the ongoing political drama in Nigeria and I am not joining those describing the present government as too slow and not hitting the ground running. Instead, I am looking at it all through my sports lenses. What I see is the philosophy of a Marathon runner, one willing to travel the long, lonely and hard road, slowly steadily but surely, focused on the road and hurdles ahead. The early part of a marathon race usually tells how it would likely end. The best runners never start with a sprint. The use the early parts of the race to set a comfortable pace, to wear down the pretenders and identify the real threats. They do not settle down to the real race to determine who will wins until past the half way mark where the wheat is separated from the chaff and the boys from the men. The sprinting comes at the every end when they have exhausted everything and yet have to dig deep, beyond the limits of normal capacity, and drink from the spirit of the impossible, and create the bridge that brings them to the thin line, the differene between winning and losing! Nigeria’s myriad of problems and challenges cannot be solved in the 4-year cycle of tenure of any government.

President Buhari must glance at a page from the book of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s example and do for Nigeria what Awolowo did for the West when he was its premier. Slowly, steadily and surely, Awolowo crossed the thin line between success and failure by establishing foundations upon which solid structures and systems were built whose products have continued to sustain till now, decades after he completed his partin an ongoing script and programme. Nigeria cannot achieve genuine change without the country passing through the present crucible of fire. The crisis in the national assembly is the first but essential litmus test that will prepare all Nigerians for the hard, long road ahead, and prepare the president for the difficult, challenging journey ahead that requires the mentality and skills of a Marathon runner. The Nigeria Premier League – too good to be true! It is unbelievable what is happening in the Nigerian Premier league these days. The stadia are filling up slowly but steadily. Why? I believe it has to do with the quality of officiating in the matches this season. Nigerian referees are officiating fairly! Unbelievable! Teams now routinely win away from home. Home teams also lose and the heavens do not fall. In one particular week three teams actually lost their home matches. I don’t recall such ever happening in Nigerian football! Yet there are no reports of the referees killed and the results protested! It is surely a new dawn! So, I am preparing to go take a look myself that all of this is real. Be sure I shall report my findings.

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