Beware (and be aware) of the power of words

I am amazed at how coaches and/or athletes can set themselves up for failure by what they say in the media in the build up before a major tournament.

In a previous posting I wrote about how I felt that the SA cricket team tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure at major international tournaments. They are masters of creating a reality for themselves that lead to their own destruction. They do this through the use of their words.

At present, South Africa is ranked number 1 in both the test and 1-day formats of the game. This is an International Cricket Council ranking based on a points system that is dependent on the performances that countries have while playing against each other in a test match or 1-day series.

But this ranking has no importance or value when it comes to tournaments, since the psychology of playing in a tournament is completely different from playing in a series against one other country. Fundamentally, there is more intensity, pressure and unpredictability in tournaments.  Coupled with this, expectations can weigh heavy on a team’s psyche. In addition, playing a tournament in your own country has its own unique pressures and demands. Sometimes having home ground advantage is not always an advantage.

Given this backdrop, I was shocked to read the interview that Dale Steyn gave on the eve of the opening match against Sri Lanka. The heading of the interview was ‘No team can match us’. In essence, it smacked of arrogance and bravado that can only set up the team for failure. For example, Steyn is reported to have said:  ‘If the team play to their potential, and this might sound cocky, I really believe no side can match us at the Champions Trophy’. Further it is reported that Steyn did not give a Sri Lankan team, considered dangerous outsiders in the race for the two-million-dollar first prize, much hope of causing an upset in a day-night fixture. Well, the harsh reality of the outcome of the match last night was that the Sri Lankans did not only beat South Africa, they outplayed them in every department of the game. South Africa suffered a humiliating defeat.

AB de Villiers feels that there might just be one single positive from a night full of negatives: ‘in previous ICC tournaments, we have sometimes seemed to start in great form and then almost run out of steam in either the semi-finals or final. On this occasion, we have started with what must rank as one of our poorest one day international performances in recent years’. So what is he trying to say? That because of this poor start, they are now going to win the tournament?

In the garden at the Beyeler Fondation, Riehen, Switzerland

Words are a reflection and representation of thoughts. Words are thoughts made public. Words are the building blocks for the eventual reality that is experienced.

In the book The Four Agreements the author Miguel Ruiz suggests that you need to make four agreements with yourself to stop feeling that you are a victim in life. One of the agreements is to be impeccable with your words. In a nutshell, words have power – a power to hurt, to heal, to give hope, to limit and/or to expand. Words can trap you into a label that you cannot escape from. For this reason, Ruiz suggests that you need to be mindful in what you say to others.

It seems that the South African management and players do not understand the power of words and how statements can create realities that may ‘back fire’ and restrict and strangle their performance on the field of play. It is obvious that the South African team are anxious and desperate to prove to themselves (and to others) that they can win a tournament. Maybe someone in the team needs to voice this anxiety and desperation (use words in a more authentic way), since authenticity helps to align thoughts, words, feelings and actions. If no one in the team has the courage to say this (or write this) in public, then it may be safer to remain silent.


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