What sport teaches us about nation building

What sport teaches us about nation building

Thursday 26 January 2023

Sport inculcates in us the spirit to fight back after a loss, and never give up. This Republic Day, let us wish for a tomorrow where we value failures, and grow to achieve the best for us and India.

When neighbourhood parks resonate with the cheers of children playing a friendly (but serious) cricket match against the setting sun, parents take delight in watching their children play. When their child’s team wins, they celebrate. But even when their child’s team loses, they console and support them. In sport, it is not just success that matters. Equally important is how one deals with loss or failure — when one has to come back and play again the next day, with the same enthusiasm and energy.

Sport has always been an integral part of our country, with a history that goes back a thousand years. The precursors of chess, the ultimate game of strategy, are said to have originated in India. We have been world champions in disciplines as diverse as cricket, hockey, kabaddi, chess, wrestling, badminton, billiards, and more. But there have been times when we have also lost, only to rise again and play to win another day.

This sense of not giving up in the face of adversity inculcates in us a fighting spirit, indomitable by failures. In today’s hyper-competitive world where we are judged by success, we must not forget the importance of failure and the lessons we can learn from it. We all have a right to fail, and there cannot be a better domain to understand its significance than sport. Sport is the greatest teacher of perseverance and determination in the face of repeated failure.

Last year, India fell in love with a “new game”, lawn bowls, as Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki, Nayanmoni Saikia and Lovely Choubey brought home the first Commonwealth Games medal in the sport for India. The four of them had started playing in different disciplines. They would have lost a few games in their career and won many times, but they never gave up. They got together to play a sport that was new to them and not known to many. It is this perseverance that helped them achieve success and emerge triumphant. It is this tenacity of spirit that sport brings to an individual.

In a society hardwired to succeed, it is difficult to stay motivated all the time. Everyone has their share of self-doubt and disappointment stemming from failures, but we need to understand that while success may not be guaranteed, we still need to continue playing the game. We must recognise the value of trying without being afraid to try new things. Sport can help us change a fearful mindset to one that is open to any new challenge.

A Mirabai Chanu may fall short of lifting a medal-winning weight once, a PV Sindhu may miss a match-winning shot, a Bajrang Punia may find his grip slipping in a final, a Mary Kom may mistime a knockout punch, and a Virat Kohli may return to the pavilion without scoring. But each one of them returns to the arena, to the court, to the field, to the ring, to try once more, to give their best for themselves — for their team and for their country.

Every champion has their moment of doubt, the occasion for failure, and share of misfortune. However, what is important is their reaction and response to the situation and learning from it to come back stronger. In the end, this is all that counts. India has a large pool of talent across different disciplines. With significant reforms and infrastructure development, the possibilities are endless as we groom the champions of tomorrow. The upcoming inaugural women’s Indian Premier League, for instance, will give youngsters scope to prove their mettle on the world stage.

Tapping talent at the grassroots level and giving them a supportive environment where they can learn, try, fail and triumph are of paramount importance. The hunger for victory has to be balanced by the ability to accept failure with a positive attitude. The lessons that failures teach us to amplify the significance of the next big win and instill resilience. This value of accepting failures as they come, if inculcated at a young age, can open the door to a promising and sustainable future.

Sport is a great leveller. It gives us the freedom to find an avenue to express ourselves, choose to do what we enjoy, and utilise our capabilities to the fullest. Be it a narrow miss at the goal, an “out at 99” in cricket, a defeat in a World Cup final, or an early exit from a league, failures prepare us for victories ahead.

This Republic Day, as we gather to honour our Constitution and the rights it gives us, let us also celebrate our journey through the years, moving forward despite the obstacles, trying, failing occasionally, but most importantly, bouncing back stronger with the collective strength of all citizens working together as a team. Let us wish for a tomorrow where we value failures, learn and grow to achieve the best for us, as well as for the nation.

Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar is former captain of the Indian cricket team The views expressed are personal