Mind Games

I keep telling myself, every time it happens.  Does it really matter?  Nobody died, nobody lost their jobs, nobody were made homeless, nobody starved because of it.

Yet none of that matters.  One of the sports teams I follow (I don’t just like football) lost a vital relegation match today.  The useless so-and-so’s.   Gaaaaaah, I’m so damn angry, despite knowing how meaningless it is in relation to those world problems I listed.

Up until then I’d had a lovely day – to a point, at least.  Another of those wanders by the beach, with once again clear blues skies and cooling breezes.

This time, however, my thoughts were positive.  Of seeing where I want to live, and get a job well enough that will enable me to afford it.  I was concentrating on when, not if, too.

I then stopped by the park.  I went to see my local non league football club.  As I wandered through the leafy grounds, over to my left a cricket match was going on.  Just in front of me some shinty players were warming up.  If you didn’t know it already, we are a nation of sport lovers.

It was always going to be that way with me.  My father was a rugby union internationalist so it came to be that every Saturday and Sunday, and a few midweek evenings, my siblings and I would be out of my mother’s hair, Dad taking us to whatever sport we were into.

We had varying levels of success, but even at such a tender age, my mind was battling against me far more effectively than any opponent.  I enjoyed my hockey, shinty (similar to hockey but with mixed martial arts thrown in) and rounders, even joining in with cricket as well.

I really did excel at cross country running and especially tennis, where I was often put into competitions for age groups well above my own.  I did not, however, think that at the time.

I was always so self critical and kept telling myself I wasn’t any good.  What didn’t help, looking back, was coming home one night to find my siblings giggling at my less than dazzling performance earlier.  That I could expect.

I didn’t expect to hear my own mother on the phone to a relative mocking and laughing as heartily as anyone else.  At that point my confidence, as low as it already was, shattered into a million pieces.  I soon gave up playing sport competitively for a number of years, and until well after I’d left home.

That, however, isn’t the motivation for relaying all of this to you.  It was as I was strolling in the park earlier.  All those people warming up or playing competitive sport.  Yet barely 50 people were there to watch any of the proceedings, though admittedly more came along as the football began.

An awful lot of that is down to the media these days.  In the papers, on tv, online, and blaring from the radio, the constant message all around the UK, not just England, is that the English Premier League is the best league in the world.  And that you can’t miss out.

For many of the media outlets, it’s important that you don’t.  They have little interest in sport, but want your money, and since Sky came on the scene all those years ago, have cranked up coverage to the so-called elite in British and world club football to almost hysterical levels.  That can’t be healthy.

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One national radio station spends its time hiring presenters to debate English Premier League issues with a deliberately provocative viewpoint.  Designed purely to engender an angry, negative response.  Then, of course, the texts come rolling in.  Money in the bank without a thought given to the potential damage they do to their audience’s minds.

As you can probably guess, I don’t subscribe to any cable or satellite sport channels, which is probably a contradiction in terms with being so immersed in sport in my childhood and carrying on that love of it ever since.

I’ve seen the coverage on those channels though.  They’re dangerously addictive, without a doubt.  Just like a soap opera, it’s like a storyline they weave to draw you in, then all of a sudden, instead of a Sunday afternoon walk in the spring or autumn, you are drawn into to City against Villa or Albion v United, even though you support none of them.  And you’ve lost hours off your life for no reason.

I don’t even regularly watch the Beeb’s iconic Match Of The Day.  The coverage is awful, sending out the same, almost hypnotic, message that the English Premier League is everything, showing a few minutes of highlights followed by a lot more inane chat from bloated former players.

I do tend to watch the equivalent north of the border, Sportscene, regularly, though, even though my team (thankfully neither of the Glasgow clubs blighted with religious intolerance) are having a stinker of a season.  The presenters and pundits know Scottish football isn’t exactly cutting edge, accept it for what it is, and give an honest account after the highlights.

And that permeates itself to the viewer.  You feel better for having watched it, whether your team have won or lost.  Almost relaxed and happy.  Which is similar to what it feels like after playing a sport, providing you’re not obsessed with just winning.

Which is what the English media are.  You either win or you are nothing in their eyes.  They encourage people to be outraged, to be unhappy, to be in tears, because their side kicked a ball into a net on a bit of grass less than someone else.  They discourage people from taking part in sport, and instead try luring you into just siting at home or in a pub to watch it.  Then put a negative slant on it all.

The sad result of this was seen this afternoon.  Cricket, shinty and football.  All being played enthusiastically, with verve, vigour and a bit of skill, by players doing it for sheer love.  Yet people were too busy watching a little vidiprinter, or an illegal internet stream, watching multi millionaires who couldn’t care less about them, to turn out and see it.  And probably feeling worse for it afterwards too.

Whether I like it or not, though, the mind games played by the British media to keep you indoors, to keep you watching their hype, and to pay good money for it, is here to stay.  With all the negative psychology that goes with it.

Why not, if you love your sport, try avoiding that?  Even better, why not be involved?  Go and see your local team.  Even better, just try a sport out.  Just taking that step, getting out and about, will help you feel better in mind as well as body.

As am I now.  My team may have lost, but I didn’t stay in to hear it all unfold.  And what do you know, my anger I felt at the start has gone!

There’s always another game.  But you only have one mind so take great care of it.   Because if you do, everyone’s a winner.

Except perhaps Sky.

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