Sport is more than a bout of clock-watching

Sport is more than a bout of clock-watching

It’s always nice to be recognised. Almost.

The time those three lads outside Fraher Field disagreed with something or other I wrote and were exhaling cider fumes, I of course denied my own identity. (I said I was my own brother, if you’re asking.)

But the polite chap near Waterstones during the week made a fair point about time added on the other evening in one of the football qualifiers. Armagh-Mayo, you’re no doubt aware. 

The referee didn’t add on enough time, the Armagh manager wasn’t happy, the call for hooters was sounded again.

What the conversation set off in my mind was a train of thought that choo-chooed in a different direction, though.

Why do sports events take the length of time they do? Why is a soccer game 90 minutes in two halves, but a basketball game is four quarters of 12 (or ten, or eight) minutes each?

Intercounty Gaelic games are 70 minutes but the levels below are 60 minutes: why?

Don’t bury me under a mountain of statements of fact. I’m aware of the evolving 60-80-70-minutes timescale in Gaelic games, for instance.

That’s why my real question, my underlying obsession, is far more basic. Why do these sports events have time limits in the first place?

This question was sparked in part by a Malcolm Gladwell piece I came across which focused on law examinations. He pointed out that the American entry system for law schools revolves around highly pressurised exams, with students doing their best to rocket through dozens of multiple-choice questions against the clock.

Gladwell made a very fair point when asking if that is an appropriate test for potential lawyers, the time element in particular. Why is the ability to perform under SBA (serious but artificial) time pressure a key element in evaluating someone for work in which that kind of serious but artificial time pressure is not an integral part of that job?

And that being said...

Is the expression of sporting excellence under SBA time pressure a real expression of that sporting excellence?

In golf there isn’t an hour-plus-ten-minutes limit on the game. Tennis players don’t have to hold out until half-time to make sure they’ll start the second half with the upper hand. 

Baseball and cricket aren’t tied to the clock either. Would hurling be better if it was simply a matter of getting your score to a predetermined level — say 30 points? If FIFA decided to throw those 90-minute limitations in the bin, would the game be better?

Would the skills on show improve if the relentless ticking of the clock were quietened? I think so.

When it comes to the perfection of playing skills, I don’t think a coach stands over a ten-year-old with a stopwatch, screaming for successful execution within a couple of seconds rather than allowing the child to perform the action properly, irrespective of the time it takes to do so.

There’s a benefit to spectators which goes beyond having enough time to appreciate what you’re watching. 

There’s a freedom in a non-timed sports environment that doesn’t exist when a whistle is blown and the seconds begin to count.

There’s a reason that people get lyrical and dreamy when they talk and write about cricket and baseball, and it has more to do with the lack of clock-watching than you might realise.

I know there’s something a little unnerving, perhaps, for people to confront here. Ingrained tradition can be difficult to overcome, after all.

I’m on to something here. And you know it.

‘Lionesses’ naming was never going to end well

When you read this the Women’s World Cup will be over, and I think it fair to say it’s been a success. 

Early-tournament nitpicking, such as complaints about the standard of goalkeeping, for instance, have been superceded by an acknowledgement of the quality on show with no caveats.

Where the tournament enjoyed a bit of extraneous luck was in the pantomime villain department. Was it unfair of the entire world to snigger up their sleeves at the vainglorious puffing-up of the English challenge?

(If you’re wondering what I’m talking about I advise you to check out the TV commentary on the England penalty in the game against the US.) 

I know the players and management are not to blame for Brexit per se, but they probably bore the brunt of — if not the world’s eye-rolling frustration, certainly that of Europe as a whole, when the US were too good for them.

Do you think I’m a bit over the top? Well, try calling your team the Lionesses. Do that and you’ve got to deal with the consequences.

Little to like about many tennis stars

I don’t really watch Wimbledon but I have stumbled across the highlights package the odd night, and am I wrong in thinking those highlights break down as follows?

Sport is more than a bout of clock-watching

Approximately 4% shots of Clare Balding and Kim Clijsters filmed from about 60 yards away, approximately 9% footage of Andy Murray signing autographs as he comes off court and definitely at least 87% tennis players behaving like a**-holes at the post-game press conferences?

I saw a blond lad asking a reporter if he was a medical specialist and an Aussie doing a great impression of Kevin the Teenager when asked if he had tried to hit another player with the ball. 

(A sample from the latter: “I don’t care. Why would I apologise? I mean, the dude has got how many slams, how much money in the bank account? I think he can take a ball to the chest, bro. I’m not going to apologise to him at all.”)

One of the female players simply turned to the press handler at her conference and said: “Can I leave? I feel like I’m about to cry.” 

I well remember reading a piece long ago in an American outlet which had polled sports agents about the athletes they liked most — I think ice hockey players were quite popular — and those they liked least. 

Tennis players figured very highly in the latter category, and while I know someone like Andy Murray comes across very well, in fairness, I didn’t see much to confound that perception last week from Wimbledon.

Turning one’s failure into success

You probably listen to this department’s Monday podcast — and if you don’t, you certainly should, even the ones that don’t feature your favourite sports columnist.

Another podcast I like is How To Fail, by Elizabeth Day — she interviews extremely successful people (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Andy McNab, Vicky McClure) but quizzes them about three failures in their lives, a fruitful approach.

 To show the cross-platform approach, Day has written How To Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong, a book which is well worth your time.

I have a fondness for people who are willing to say they’ve failed, and no-one does it quite as well as Elizabeth Day.

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