The Louise Galvin Column: Sport – The Great Leveller
Sport- The Great Leveller
Sport, in many ways, echoes life itself. Very few, including characters that dominate their sport, experience a constant upward trajectory in their career. Even the great Brian O’Driscoll documents his struggle to make his School Cup Rugby team. Pick up any sporting autobiography and invariably they detail the barriers that popped up as they tried to progress to the elite level. I had my own BOD moment – not getting picked for the Irish under 16 basketball panel. Two years later I was captain of the Irish under 18 team.
Life is full of peaks and troughs just like that. These peaks can be obvious: winning games, leagues, championships or individual honours. They can be more subtle than that- recognising being part of a great or special team, making a welcome return from injury, victory for an underdog.
Likewise troughs can be clear, such as losing cup finals in overtime (been there!), a lengthy injury not responding to treatment, poor individual performance where you’ve let the team and coach down, or the end of an era of a special team.
Outside my alma mater, the University of Limerick, there is a wall, at the flagpoles. It’s black and white with smooth and unpaved stones. It simply means “Life isn’t always black and white, you’ve to take the rough with the smooth”. Along with my degree, it is the most valuable thing that I will take with me from my UL days -both for my sporting and non-sporting life. (Although I do have to admit it’s meaning was imparted to me by a taxi driver on the way home from a night out, as opposed to a lecturer!)
Perspective is a word I continually try to keep in mind. It’s a fantastic way to flip a negative thought process into a positive one. For example, players respond differently to criticism from coaching staff. Some require a quiet word in their ear; some a public dressing down. Personally, I was never really bothered about being berated in front of my team mates for a silly turnover or foul. At times form has dipped for a few training sessions and this has seeped into consecutive games. Repeated public dressing downs can then begin to chip at already depleting confidence levels. Seeds of doubt lay down roots. When this has happened before I would internalise my angst, which eventually lead to a frustrated outburst aimed at whatever poor soul was in the vicinity… team-mate at training, opponent, even the coach.
Maturing, I now use perspective. Instead of “I wish he’d get off my back, he never gives out to so and so” instead it’s, “he’s only roaring at me because I have so much potential, he expects so much more, as do I of myself, as do my team mates”. This practise slowly changes a situation where before I would lose control and eventually my temper, to an internal locus of control where I stop the rot myself, and commence the rebuilding process. Address whatever issue is pertinent ..”tonight at training I am going to have less than two turnovers”. One mini victory and back on the upward curve. Peaks and troughs.
I thought I was aware and had experienced every possible benefit of playing sport and being part of a team. That was until November 2013 when my boyfriend Alan collapsed in the gym in UL and passed away from a brain haemorrhage. Words can’t articulate the time that followed. The trough was invisible to the naked eye, off the page.
I struggled badly to summon up any desire to train or play. Even though I know that’s what Alan would’ve wanted, what the people closest to me wanted to see. But all competitiveness deserted me.
The first game after Christmas, seven weeks after Alan died, we lost a league game in UL. I played terribly, but for the first time in seven weeks it struck a chord with me that I cared that I played badly. I was bothered by it.
I trained hard that week and played a cup semi-final in Neptune the following weekend. We won, I did relatively well considering my haphazard preparation, and after the game I realised I had experienced the first semblance of “normality” since Alan’s passing. That bit of normality I attribute to having an opponent who wanted to strip the ball off me, block my shot, drive past me, look for a weakness to exploit. They weren’t taking it easy on me because I’d had a tough time, because I was in mourning. This was a reprieve from every other facet of my life at that time, it was ‘normal’ and I began to crave it.
Two weeks later the National Cup final loomed and we were heading for three-in-a-row. Basketball had become a welcome distraction and opportunity to refocus. We lost to Glanmire in overtime.
Previously I probably would’ve been teary-eyed there on the court at the final whistle, lamenting missed shots, turn overs etc. But perspective was there for me again….
It was ten weeks since Alan’s death- tears didn’t flow for sporting losses anymore. I remember standing on the court soaking up the atmosphere and my surroundings, and realising how lucky I was. That may sound mad, like I’d lost all competitive edge. But that wasn’t the case. I was devastated we lost, particularly having led comfortably in the third quarter, we just didn’t re-adjust quick enough when they went on their run. Yet the overwhelming feeling I had was how lucky I was to be able to play and contribute in one of best women’s cup finals ever seen; in front of a packed National basketball arena and live TV audience, in front of my family and friends, representing my club, my team mates, my coach and friend. All of whom were so fantastic to me during the greatest difficulty I have faced. I hadn’t lost competitiveness, just gained perspective.
From then on sport, in terms of basketball, football and more recently rugby, has helped me continue back along the curve. Obviously, there have been many more troughs, but I’m glad to say there are many peaks too. The curve is back on the page. Two years later, I wonder where I would be at all if I didn’t have that outlet, that focus.
The Great Leveller
It doesn’t matter who you are, who your parents are, what car you drive or how much money you have. When you come up against your opponent it comes down to who is better prepared; who has worked the hardest; who has accumulated the greater repertoire of skills through training and repetition. Who wants it more. No sympathy, no excuses. That is why I love sport.
At times, I’ve come across team-mates over the years who have the impression that their sport owes them, for what they’ve “sacrificed”. But what about all they’ve gained? Friends, life skills, opportunities…. The list is endless. I hadn’t considered this prior to Alan’s passing, but I will forever be indebted to the sports I’ve played and the teams I’ve played for. I get back far more than I give, physically and mentally. I think we all do.
“Life isn’t always black and white, you’ve to take the rough with the smooth”
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