‘The courage to have a go’

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘The courage to have a go’

23 September 2013
Category:   WINNING MIND – the art of achieving

We talk a lot about courage in a sporting context these days: the courage to take a contested mark, to take off on a big wave, make a big tackle or come from behind and win an epic swim. While all of these actions are commendable – what is the real essence of courage in sport?

To me, part of what it takes to be courageous is overcoming the constant battle between the desire for what we want and the fear of failure. Most of us don’t expose ourselves because we are fearful. It takes a lot of courage to take to the field in front of 80,000 fans and risk failure on a grander scale than many of us would encounter in any area of our lives, but many of our sportspeople do this week in and week out. This takes real guts.

Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown, who also runs a blog called ‘Ordinary courage’, said: “There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.” Vulnerability she added “is our most accurate measurement of courage”.

It also requires great courage to live by your convictions and argue your ideas when they are not popular. This is not the physical bravery that we are used to gasping at in awe during sporting encounters, but ‘moral courage’. This is the courage required to stop, resist, challenge and say ‘no’ to things that do not correspond to your values or beliefs.

This was exemplified on a feature I saw last week on ABC Grandstand, which showed some of our top Aussie sportspeople, including David Pocock, Alex Blackwell, Natalie Cook and Gus Johnston leading the push to end homophobia in sport. To hear rugby international Pocock saying that the “homophobia and sexist language that everyone still uses needs to be challenged”, or witness Johnston’s emotional coming out video to highlight how homophobia still exists at every level of sport and it’s devastating personal effect, shows courage of the highest order.

I’ve been to a few awards nights recently, including the AFL’s Most Valuable Player awards, where I saw replays of incredible feats of courage and bravery on football fields from some of our finest athletes. But to me, the finest award last week went to Sydney Swans dual Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes, who won the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sport at the annual Deadly Awards. In presenting the prestigious award, Marcia Ella-Duncan said Goodes was “An Aboriginal man that has stood up to be counted, standing tall against racism, and setting an example in the tradition of the great Nicky Winmar”. His courage to take a stand against racism by a spectator during the opening game of the AFL’s Indigenous Round set a national example for others to follow. Glen Ella added: “He is a leader for our time, on and off the football field”.

Courage was also the theme of the 2013 Beyond Sport Summit held recently in Philadelphia where people and organisations shared courageous stories on how sport has created change on the ground. At the event, Beyond Sport CEO Nick Keller emphasized the importance of ‘corporate courage’ – businesses acting courageously in their support of sport as a tool for creating positive social change. For Keller: “To be the first to innovate is an act of courage”.

One of my favourite quotes is from Irish poet and novelist Oscar Wilde who wrote: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”. Sport is one of those few things in life that allows us to truly live in the moment, and laugh and share and connect.

Perhaps the real essence of courage in sport is just having a go. We saw this in spades several weeks ago by 64-year-old American long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad who became the first person to swim across the Florida Straits from Cuba without a shark cage – on her fifth attempt. The Reuters description of her finishing sums it up really: ‘Her face sunburned and lips swollen, with barely enough energy to speak, Nyad waded ashore at Key West after a 53-hour swim and delivered a simple message to onlookers: “We should never, ever give up . . . You never are too old to chase your dreams’’.

Dr Pippa Grange



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Categorized: WINNING MIND – the art of achieving