Coping With Sporting Obsession

Posted on May 9, 2013

Between the 2006 and 2012, with the help of others, I re-established and ran a local colt’s cricket team that featured my eldest son, his friends and other lads from around the area. When we started, it was all a bit of a laugh really, but as the boys grew stronger and their motor skills began to click in to place, the whole thing became irrationally competitive and obsessive, not just for me but also for many of the parents (the male ones essentially) involved.

By the time they were all sixteen, many of them were approaching six foot and pumped with competitiveness and a raw edge that made me and the chap (Mark) who helped me, proud that we had done our bit by helping to develop these scrawny 10 year olds into competitive sportsmen. It was a great period of my life that I will always look back at with fondness.

Then that was it. It was all over…The kids were suddenly young adults. Six of them moved smoothly into senior set-up whilst others drifted away to pursue amongst other things such as college and the female of the species; I was in effect redundant. For several days after our last game, I felt really flat. The cricket team, the players and the parents had all become an integral part of my little life in north Hampshire and in a flash it was gone, goodbye, for keeps, forever.

My former team at under 13 level

I thought I must have had some sort of mental deficiency to feel that way, but after speaking to parents who have been involved in sport and reading more and more about the human coping mechanisms required to cope with the demands of retirement, I began to realise what a bizarre effect it can have on an individual’s mental state. No matter the level, the thrill of sporting success, for many, is hard to replicate.

So, what on earth must Alex Ferguson feel like right now? Like him or loathe him, Ferguson has had a career like no other in football or indeed any other sport. He took over the reins at Manchester United before I had met my first girlfriend and before I had even registered my first ever job or vote.

During his tenure, United emerged from the shadow of Liverpool and amassed 38 trophies and outlasted no fewer than the 26 managers that have passed through the gates of Spanish rivals, Real Madrid.

After 26 years of obsession, aggression, self-inflicted paranoia, vicious rows and ruthless dictatorship accompanied by bitter defeats and ludicrous last gasp victories that only come with the refusal to accept defeat, Ferguson will find himself waking up in just over a week, with a vacuum ahead of him. How will someone of his nature learn to deal with that? In fact, how does his successor, David Moyes, deal with that?

I always thought that Ferguson would do a Jock Stein (the former Scotland manager) and keel over on the touchline, allowing his complex mind to find an empty room in the sky to start an argument in; it is to his huge credit that unlike many sports people (boxers are a great example) he decided to quit right at the top after reclaiming the Premier League from his “noisy neighbours” Manchester City.

What will be interesting for me (because I am like that) is what follows his departure. Will Ferguson find a way to satisfy his desire for competitive combat or will he mentally crumble into a shadow of what he formerly was? Roles as an ambassador and a director await him, but will that be enough to motivate him in the years ahead?

Listen folks, making comparison between people like Alex Ferguson and youth coaches like me seems and indeed is, in many ways a preposterous statement to make. However, there is a real relevance. I bet that anyone reading this who has coached at any level of sport would have had the same thoughts as what I have had since the announcement of his (Ferguson’s) retirement. Those thoughts being “How is he going to cope?”

At the end of my six years as a youth coach, the Chairman of the club, seeing the vacant look in my eyes, gave me the position of captaining the Sunday team. This season I have become the Chairman, a tremendous honour considering the club has existed since 1849. There is a legacy too, it may not be Fergusonesque, but there are now about 90 kids playing cricket at Oakley now as opposed to 14 when we started it.

However, despite all that and the prospect of a bench with my name on it when I keel over, there is nothing quite like getting together a group of young players who are effectively raw material and developing them into a genuine team over a period of years; it is a fantastic challenge better than any other and great fun too.

I will always remember when our team got well beaten in shameful circumstances at rivals Basingstoke; we sat them down and told them that they owed it to the club and their parents (who drove them all around Hampshire) a response to make them proud. The consequences of this discussion resulted in the rest of the season unbeaten. If I was an American called Todd, I would have cried, but I am English, so I faked hay fever.

Being a Chairman or an ambassador for a club of any stature is of course, something to be proud of but nothing compares to the highs and lows of leading a team into battle, whatever the level.

Alex Ferguson has to deal without that feeling for the first time in forty odd years.

1 Reply to "Coping With Sporting Obsession"

  • Dickie Van Der Klak
    May 14, 2013 (2:28 pm)

    I sure he will manage to make David Moyes’s life a misery for a half of next season. Then the poor blighter will move off to manage Hamilton Academicals while old Whiskey nose becomes Caretaker until Paul Scholes takes the reins.

Got something to say?

Some html is OK

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.