School of sport: Pressure is a privilege

Pressure is a privilege

BECOMING a School Prefect is the dream and goal of many pupils. It is a huge honour, a massive privilege, a glorious opportunity, to have the responsibility to lead pupils in the beloved school (similar to that which politicians do in leading citizens in our beloved country). Interestingly and ironically, the first question a new Prefect tends to ask is, “What privileges do I get?”

They want to know what perks, what benefits, what special treatment will be afforded to them – what grass can they alone walk on, what clothes can they only wear, what things can they do that others cannot. The sad thing is that they do not realise that being a leader is the greatest privilege that one can possibly have. Do they need any more when they have that privilege already? Surely not!

It is not just in school where one privilege is being able to walk on grass that only a few can do; playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon would also be a dream for any aspiring tennis player, a feat that only a favoured few can do. Hundreds of people try to qualify to play in the tournament itself, and even then most players will only play on the outer courts, never reaching the cauldron of Centre Court. What a privilege that is! And above the entrance to the Centre Court is a plaque quoting a favourite saying of Billie-Jean King, one of the all-time tennis greats: “Pressure is a privilege”.

Privilege has been defined as being a “special right, advantage, immunity granted or available only to a particular person or persons”. Privileges are not for all; indeed, they are for the few. Billie-Jean King therefore was obviously referring to the pressure that comes in reaching Finals and playing at the highest level.

Not everyone can play at Wimbledon; only two make it to the Final. Not winning a Final brings pressure on players the next time they play there; they now have one less opportunity to achieve their goal. But equally, winning the Final puts pressure on the player as the next time they will be expected to win. Because we have one title, everyone will expect us to win more.

The reality is however that we all face pressure in different ways and, in that sense, we are all privileged. There is just as much pressure on the person who loses all the time as the one who wins all the time.

The player struggling to make the team faces great pressure as much as the player who is struggling to stay in the team. There is pressure on the person who has little money, simply to survive, but there is pressure on those who have huge amounts of money, to deal with hangers-on as much as to care for others.

People do not want the pressure of eking out a living or never being selected; they do not see that as a privilege yet it is certainly pressure.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to reverse the saying and declare that, in fact, “Privilege is a pressure.”

Once we have been afforded a privilege, whatever it may be, we have greater responsibility than others because now we stand out as being one of the few, as being the one expected to produce the goods, as the one making good decisions.

Now people will talk about us and discuss our performances on social media; now the press will follow our every move with great scrutiny and explanation; now spectators will have greater expectations and hopes for us, pinning their own dreams on us succeeding. Indeed, many will hope for and take pleasure in our demise.

We will do well to remember though that what we have received which stands out from others (deserved or not) is something that others would love to have and indeed it is something that we will not always have. We therefore have a responsibility to those who have received it before, as well as to those who have not received it ever, to recognise and respect it as an incredible privilege, given to only a few. We must enjoy and delight in it, for sure, and therefore use it and take advantage of it, not simply for our own good but for those who will be affected by it.

The higher we climb in the mountains, the greater the pressure as it affects our breathing, our body, our mind; the same is true in sport. Pupils may experience pressure in their quest to become a Prefect but becoming a Prefect is a privilege which in turn brings further pressure.

The same is true for those seeking and succeeding to become perfect in their sport. It is in truth a privilege simply to be playing sport, no matter the level, when many would long to do so; those of us who can play sport have the privilege to ensure that playing sport means something special. Pressure? Privilege! 

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