For most of us, 2020 was far from pleasant.
Regardless of your occupation or location, the corona crisis has had an enormous impact on everyone’s life, both directly and indirectly.
Whether you realize it or not.
This might not be a year you want to remember but it is surely one you will never forget.
When I started to feel the ‘itch’ to write down some reflections about these everlasting months of uncertainty and shifting scenarios, the word ‘takeaway’ seemed to be an interesting homonym to ‘decorate’ the piece. The anecdote with the restaurant takeaway service and the analogy with the many lessons to retain for the times to come.
So many things happened inside and outside the fields in a year with so many restrictions.
Obviously, every individual has experienced this year and the unprecedented limitation of freedom, social and professional activity in differently. People have been hit in different ways, depending on their location in the world and their area of activity.
For many of those reading this article, highly involved with sports, passionate about outdoors, physical practice and (real) social interaction this was definitely a tough period.
A strong word of support for the many professionals with probable financial repercussions due to their dependence on the ‘normal’ activity.
Luckily, a characteristic of true sports people is their resilient ability to adapt and overcome setbacks. I have no doubt that the vast majority enduring some ‘obstacles’ will find ways to thrive again in the near future.
On the other hand , everything is a matter placing it in some kind of perspective, of having a certain mindset…
This period also offered (rather made it more visible) that there are endless opportunities to learn, read, write, educate or train your body and intellect. Ultimately, to reinvent yourself.
Can there ever be a better investment?
Now, I will try to list the subjects I thought deserved some reflection during the last months. All of below, in one way or another, is related to sports and hockey in particular.
Some, of the most controversial topics have most probably been emotionally exacerbated by the whole context of this past year.
Polarisation and Political Correctness
This was a year of extremes. Extreme measures, extreme opinions, extreme conspiracies (and the list goes on…).
All of seemed to be very much fuelled by social media. A year where so many relevant topics saw their importance become dissipated on endless threads of hate speech and opposing arguments. It is difficult to stay sane and maintain a balanced opinion in a time where we are bombarded with divergent truths and conflicting facts. Sometimes its just hard to distinguish what is real and what is fictional. The Truth becomes ‘just’ matter of perspective. This extreme way to engage debate or merely to expose news items, reflects and exposes a certain polarisation within our society.
Perception became blurred. The problem is that we so often tend to stare at the symptoms instead of understanding the context. We look at the consequences before comprehending the causes. We are constantly listening to react instead of listening to understand.
Experienced sports people, have a trained mind to understand patterns, effectively identify the origin of problems, provide solutions and design training scenarios to address and hopefully prevent repeated mistakes. However, sports cannot escape the general pop scrutiny and the common unfounded meanings that comes with it.
This is however a two-edged sword because if sports want to survive they need the exposure that is required for their financial sustainability.
Sport faces an infinte number of challenges in the near future but should try to hold it’s ground as a platform of justice and equality of opportunity. The trick is to maintain the intellectual sanity, social competence and always stay true to certain values regardless of ‘outside noise’.
Racism or Inclusivism?
Because of it’s massive exposure and the emotional engagement attached to it, sports is a vulnerable platform for people’s opinions. As the old saying goes: It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.
Recently, sports have been in the spotlight because of racist accusations. I always consider that certain matters, due to their gravity and possible implications, need to be addressed in a very careful and thoughtful way. Racism is certainly one of those. Every piece of evidence proving racism is a piece of evidence too much. Racism is still, unfortunately, an endemic problem in our society, in some regions more present (or visible) than others.
What I struggle to accept is that sports, as a whole concept has a racist core. Quite the contrary, I think sports, particularly the collective ones, are a powerful and effective platform for inclusion. People from different backgrounds, religions and social status play and train together every day, building positive and lifelong relationships that go way deeper than just team camaraderie.
For any isolated case of racism there are infinitely more signs of respect and inclusion through sports. That is not a minor detail, and neither should it be.
Most of us, quickly and unconsciously think about racism as exclusively a problem purely related to skin colour, but it is far more comprehensive than that.
I am adament, also for the sake of avoiding possible misinterpretations, that this doesn’t change the fact that racism exists (and persists) but some disgusting episodes shouldn’t compromise the bigger picture. The fact that sports, in the broader sense, is a great, if not the greatest tool to tackle so many discrimination problems.
Hockey in particular, has an interesting place within this racism debate. Firstly, because (fortunately or not) is not so affected by the conventional sports fan masses that so commonly are characterised by certain tribalistic behaviour (particularly in sports like soccer) – my tribe (my club) is better than yours, therefore my people are of greater value than ‘yours’ – obviously if you add the right amount of passion and irrationality, it can escalate very quickly into offensive interactions, racist insults, etc…
Let’s take Europe as an example. One could state that, we seem to have very few known episodes (or at least brought to the public eye) for hockey to be regarded as a breeding ground for racism.
That in itself could be a signal that perhaps the situation is far from ideal in the first place as there are such a limited amount of hockey players from ethnic minorities compared with other sports.
Should we then conclude that hockey is not being open and inclusive enough?
More accessibility, less reality?
Does more data and information really add up to more real knowledge?
There is definitely nothing wrong with the possibility of accessing more information, especially if was previously restricted or not as evident.
I realised this recent crisis (and consequent lockdowns) was an opportunity for a lot of people to write down and share a lot of their knowledge and it was also a period of time that people could allocate more time on educating themselves in several matters.
Personally, I used this time to read and write a lot more, and was involved in many learning environments, formal and informal, as a teacher and a student.
A couple of obvious observations are that theory needs to be permanently challenged with reality and we can’t ignore that certain aspects are extremely difficult to replicate in virtual/hypothetical scenarios. This is never more evident than with sports. Sports are just so imbedded with feelings, emotions, physical and mental forms.
In any area, experts like details. With so much information and knowledge floating around, the capacity to filter and summarise are two qualities that one should acquire during these ever shifting and fast paced times.
Remember: About knowledge, it is more important to be flexible than durable.
For the most part, big decisions arise from complex dilemmas for which there are no clear right or wrong answers.
The future always looks so thrilling if you keep your mind open to the exciting unknown. In ‘my future’, hockey fulfils it’s potential as one of the thriving and popular sports in the world. However audacious this might sound, it is still the way I would like to look into the future, with ambition and a touch of audacity.
In the hockey world, there are a couple of issues, that I think need to be fixed. To name a few: the alignment of the international calendar with the domestic competitions, a higher level of professionalisation at club level, the establishment of the European club scene as the flagship for competitive hockey – why not thinking about a continental franchise competition model ‘a la NBA’ / India Hockey League? and also a simplification of our identity and communication.
Not to mention the threat Hockey5s present to Field and Indoor Hockey sustainability as a global game…
(You can find some of my reflections about the hockey5s topic on previous publications).
I also hope hockey understands the digital opportunities and the urgent need to embrace it, mostly to reach younger audiences.
A sport that doesn’t offer enough to young people, will not thrive.
Looking at the recent and successful example of online education, I wish organisations, brands and other commercial partners would understand that hockey is way behind other sports, which is somehow a paradox with the way the game has been so progressive inside the lines.
We need accessible streaming possibilities, better broadcasting quality, and our stars to get more exposure (that’s just for starters).
We might be too focused, and understandably so, with some real-life problems such as facilities, water scarcity, difficulty to provide equipment at more accessible prices and playing surfaces for a wider population.
We need to understand the digital and technological wave and surf it.
Just like we did with video analysis. Hockey was and is still known for being one of the most pioneering and advanced sports regarding video analysis. That had a tremendous impact within the game and particularly in player and coach education.
All of the previous, is of very little importance if the world doesn’t get into a more normalised situation.
How will so many competitions resume? What are the possible effects of this situation on the mental health of coaches and players? Will we lose athletes? Will players return with a renewed energy and more eager than ever? What about Tokyo2021?
A lot of the answers to these questions will unveil themselves in the coming months…
I wish you all a healthy and positive 2021, you all deserve a good year!
Thank you to my friend and ‘sparring partner’ Mark Peart.
For the continuous support, but mostly for the ability to filter and translate my ideas into a proper and more understandable English.