Yesterday, I watched a video of a former politician in Barbados making disparaging remarks about the intelligence of a sportsman who was a West Indies player, West Indies captain and West Indies coach. Although the remarks were disturbing, they were not surprising.
In 1983, I did a fantastic interview with Sir Garfield Sobers in Australia in which I was able to learn about the mental aspects of his game, and the other factors that were responsible for his greatness.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of articles about that interview. In response, I received feedback from several readers who doubted the authenticity of comments attributed to Sir Garfield. They said that he was too articulate. It is sad that in 2020, some people in the Caribbean still share the perception that our best sportsmen are uneducated, unintelligent and poor thinkers.
It is particularly ironic that a politician should think that way because in politics anyone can win a seat and become a Member of Parliament. And if his party wins power, he can become a minister in areas of governance in which he has no training, competence, or qualifications. It is not difficult to understand substandard leadership and substandard performance at ministerial levels.
I believe that similar disparaging comments were made by a former president of Cricket West Indies about the capacity of former players to govern; even though Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Alan Rae, and Sir Wesley Hall performed competently as presidents of the West Indies Cricket Board before he came on the scene.
Sport is about action and results and unlike politics, the rhetoric/reality/honesty gap is extremely narrow. Moreover, the sportsman conducts his business in full view of the public. With the advent of high definition TV and videos, every emotion he shows, every action he takes, every mistake he makes and every success he has can be seen, analysed and evaluated by every Tom, Dick and Harry. There is nowhere for him to hide. I can’t think of any other profession that conducts its business in that fashion.
Academic intelligence, sports intelligence and survival intelligence are not the same things. We should remember that God made man before God made books.
The purpose of thinking is to reach a better understanding, decision, or course of action, not to prove that you are smarter than someone else. A sensible politician should be able to appreciate an idea from a sportsman as he might appreciate a beautiful flower, no matter in whose garden it is growing.
We should be more concerned with the type of thinking and intelligence that focus on wisdom rather than cleverness. If you become wise, it is not so difficult to become clever as well. But, if you focus on being clever you might have little chance of ever becoming wise. Someone once said that the true measure of wisdom is the capacity to see and understand things from different perspectives.
The thinking and intelligence needed to pass examinations in schools and universities are different from those required for success in sport and business. The skills of numeracy and literacy are very different from the skills of operacy or doing.
According to Dr. Edward DeBono, education today is essentially about the past, that is, information that is already in existence. It is a matter of learning, sorting, reviewing, combining and describing existing knowledge and information. If students learn how to regurgitate that information to pass their examinations they are considered to be bright and intelligent. But if they fail in that venture they are considered to be slow and dull. But examinations only reflect what you have learnt and have been, not what you can learn and become, Many university graduates wrongly assume that once they have knowledge, action will be easy and automatic.
Rather than awakening the imagination and enhancing the gifts of curiosity, creativity, and innovation in our young people, today’s education system too often inhibits and limits the students. Unfortunately, cricket coaches and administrators are now making the same mistake. Some observers claim that cricket education and development have become too academic That might be one of the reasons why our cricket teams are performing so poorly.
In sport, knowledge and experience are important but successful performance demands much more. It requires creative and innovative thinking about goals, strategies, tactics, priorities, motivation, discipline, consequences, team building, team work, leadership, set backs and failures, physical and psychological battles with opponents and psychological battles with self.
Clive Lloyd, our most successful captain, once said to me: “What people don’t understand is that you don’t have to be bright academically to be a good captain or good player. Captaincy is about vision, good judgement and common sense, and about motivating, managing and leading players. An old friend, Fred Wills, once said to me: ”Don’t worry about this university stuff. If you have a modicum of intelligence you could become a lawyer like me, or whatever you want to be. But I can get all the best coaches in the world to teach me how to play cricket but I will never be able to bat like you or Sir Garfield Sobers.”
Clive added: “To be a good cricketer you must be able to think well, particularly when you are under pressure. You have to out-think, out-plan and out-perform your opponents. Just because someone might use a few ‘green’ verbs or might not be well versed in grammar does not mean he is not a good thinker. My players won two World Cups and should have won a third and they were world champions for about fifteen years. Not many of them went to university or to any great schools. Nevertheless they could think and play like champions and that is what is important in sport.”
Singapore is known all over the world for its high level of education. During the planning cycle, the Ministry of Education asks engineering, business and other leaders to tell them what challenges and demands lay ahead, fifteen to twenty years into the future; and what types of technologies and jobs will be in the greatest demand. The Ministry takes note, restructures its education system, and then tailors its teaching and curricula to meet and fit those new challenges. In that way, the Ministry is always well prepared.
This approach is very similar to that of Sir Garfield Sobers in cricket. He said: “To perform well you must identify the challenges and demands in the situations you are about to face; think calmly and sensibly about them; and then tailor your skills, resources and strategies to meet and capitalize on them.“
Sir Garfield added that situations, challenges and demands are constantly changing and the process of FIT must be carefully monitored and adjusted.
In the Caribbean, giving our sportsmen and sportswomen the respect and appreciation that they deserve is long overdue. It is time for people like that politician to change their perception, not just of our cricketers but also of themselves and in the process acquire a proper insight into reality. Most thinking mistakes are made in the first or perceptual phase of thinking, not in the second or logical and analytical phase. Change beliefs and you will change perception; change perception and you will change thinking; change thinking and you will change emotions and actions. We must remember that arrogance is the greatest sin of thinking. We must also remember that we see things not as they are, but as we are.
Unfortunately, we often judge and try to change others before first judging and changing ourselves.
“Build a better world,” said God. And I answered, “How? The world is such a vast place; and so complicated now; and I am small and useless; there is nothing I can do.” But God in all his wisdom said, “Just build a better you.”
(Rudi V. Webster is a Barbados scholar, medical doctor, former professional cricketer, mental skills coach and Barbados Ambassador)