I was 30 minutes away from being World Champion…
I wasn’t warming up, though, I was busy dying. Not literally, but in my mind. In the corner of my cramped hotel room I sat and clearly imagined dying. Not in the abstract, future, ‘we will all die one day’ sense, but today, this afternoon. Had I mistimed crossing the road earlier – my last feeling that of a car, my last sight the particular red paint of its bodywork, my last thought a startled realisation of the error, my last meal a buffet lunch, the last person I spoke to a casual acquaintance. I never visited all those cities, built a house, even finished the book I was carrying. The end of all my futures.
I went downstairs and fought in the final of the World Championships. And I won.
If you ask me how it happened, I’ll say it was nothing. And if you understand that, you’ll know how I did it.
There was no meaning in that match. I had gone beyond triviality and so I just boxed and was genuinely surprised by the fuss and the commotion that came. I had made the match a finite thing, free from anxiety, free from any difficulty other than the athletic. I had flattened the meaning around it.
When a match means everything, we are tense, inflexible, choked, unable to deploy our best skills. If, however, the match means nothing, you are lax, loose, too carefree. The ultimate competitor resolves the tension between the two poles – life and death – allowing the match to mean everything whilst meaning nothing.
Dying to win.
Dying to win is simultaneously a pun and a bit of wry humour. Often in the most important moments, the tension and meaning become too much, just when we need to do our best, and we are crippled by it. The answer to this irony is to respond with an irony of our own.
My method touches on what many cultures and philosophies have thought about the release that accompanies a sincere contemplation of our limits.
The Stoics recommended a Memento Mori – the reminder of death – to keep you fixed on the virtues of the good life and as a reminder of the small place you – and your troubles – occupy in the world.
Existential psychology deals with four great themes of human condition – meaninglessness; isolation; freedom; death. Contemplation of the end of life – existential shock therapy – strips away our pathology around the fear of death, thus freeing us from limiting behaviours and the dread in which we usually exist.
It is a far cry from the fist-pumping, win-at-all-costs brand of sport psychology that athletes often seek out. Mine is a philosophical method, a chance to combine the sporting encounter with the deeper strains of existence and the logic of the finite condition we find ourselves in, when playing sport or otherwise. It’s not for everyone.
In my experience, most sports people have the same problem to overcome: how to act. How to do the things you are able to do free from anxiety and tension. How to choose well and perform using every part of your repertoire. My method offers such a way, by extending focus to the end of all endeavour, placing the sport contest in perspective, and stripping away the crippling factor of overwhelming meaning.
The epithet ‘hero’ is reserved for those who overcome fear for their lives. I help make sporting heroes.