Is inward focus a necessity for sporting success?
Sporting heroes, people to be marked and remembered. Sometimes the athletes and sports people who are revered seem almost super human. It is likely that they are. The individuals who achieve the highest levels in sport clearly require certain characteristics, often extreme ones. One such essential characteristic is likely an intense inward focus, which may at times approach self-absorption.
Two recent interviews provide a good example of the necessity of this characteristic. The England and Surrey cricketer Zafar Ansari recently retired from all cricket aged 25. Chris Froome just won his his 4th Tour De France. Their interviews give insight into their differing perspectives. One it would appear relishes the inward looking focus, the other cites it as a key factor in his retirement. Froome mentions something bordering on pleasure when he is fighting with his rivals on a mountain stage, just him and them and the pain. He relishes that unique world, that intense focus on just a few meters of French road. Ansari, on the other hand, felt disconnected, out of touch with the world when forced to focus on plans for bowling at Indian batsman and unable to ponder the state of the US election. One athlete feels comfortable with a single minded focus, while the other does not. In most sporting books Froome will be remembered as the more successful; his comfort with inward focus critical to his success. The lack or unwillingness to have such a focus may lead to highly talented individuals, like Ansari, choosing other paths. Many may think that winning one Tour de France would be enough, to take that glory and try out other areas of life- let alone peruse 4, or more. The desire to exist in that moment, the world limited to professional sport may keep drawing some back.
Professional footballers are often criticised for their excessive pay. It is cited as something that appears to disconnect them from the “real world” and a reason for some to dislike football. The pay is likely a reflection of an inward focus. Footballers only compare themselves to other footballers. “I think I am more important and better than him, so I should get paid more”. Alex Ferguson had the principal that he must be paid more than any Manchester United player. This was to maintain his dominance and not a desire for wealth. Ferguson had to exist in the insular world of a professional football club. It is therefore true to say that it is likely footballers are disconnected from the “real world”. It may be impossible for them not to be. A total absorption or obsession is required to reach their standards. Dennis Bergkamp writes that he was obsessed by how a football reacted, spun and could be manipulated by his feet. This obsession will have aided his ability to control the ball beyond the standard of most of his peers. It was necessary in his rise to the top.
A blend of many characteristics is required to make a top sportsperson. But if they genuinely don’t feel that what they are doing is worthwhile, or at least more worthwhile than other things they could be doing, they are unlikely to put in the effort required to really achieve. Those who are at least as talented but are more outward looking may not make it. What leads to that kind of inward focus is the topic for another day!