Humour is an essential part of elite performance. It’s a natural release from the pressures of your demanding schedule. It’s also a crucial part of surviving the twists and turns of the competitive world of athletics, business or even school.
In this weeks blog, Olympic Gold Medalist and BISS Puxi Elite Performance Coach Marlon Devonish, shares some of the fun stories, he and his fellow athletes engaged in during the highs and lows of the international athletic circuit.
As a slumbered in my bed I noticed some movement beside me. I was in the Netherlands, at an International athletics meeting in Hengelo preparing for competition and sharing a room with a Great Britain triple jumper. At this point, I was not aware of my colleagues nocturnal toilet habits but I was about to find out. The distance between the bathroom and the bed was not long given the somewhat ‘cosy’ room we were sharing but it was just long enough for my team mate to crouch on the floor ready to spring into action.
In my semi-conscious state, I opened my eyes baffled by my roomy’s odd behaviour. Slowly it dawned on me that he was practicing his technique – using the ‘track’ between the bed and the bathroom, he perfectly executed a hop, then a skip and finally a long jump landing him with acute precision right in front of the toilet.
I now sat up wide eyed and incredulous. I like to think that I am pretty well up on all of the different preparation techniques for competition but this was the first time I had seen someone go so far as to integrate it into his nocturnal toilet habits.
Somewhat embarrassed my roommate asked me to keep it quiet and true to the code of the elite athletes union I promised to keep shtum – until the next morning when I told absolutely everybody. The news spread like wild fire and there ensued the teasing and ‘banter’ which I love and is so much part of athletics.
The crushing embarrassment of my esteemed team mate only served to increase the hilarity amongst our community and, whilst he remains nameless for the purpose of this blog, he knows who he is and he also knows that this is all part and parcel of athletics and sports in general.
In the pressure cooker of elite performance you need a release. In fact, the moments of greatest hilarity were saved for those darkest moments in training where I, and my training partners pushed ourselves to the limit. There were times when reaching for gold we pushed ourselves to the edge in training.
After a killer training session I would literally lie languishing in pain with the lactic acid pulsating through every part of my body. I was in pain. We all were. And we knew we need to take on liquids and get ready to go again despite our bodies telling us we were done.
The intensity of training was such that we all needed a release and the fun and banter between team mates was essential for getting us up and ready again. To be honest, most of the fun was just teasing and ‘you had to be there in the moment’. Some of it wasn’t even that funny but the fact that we had a group of people working towards a goal of being the best they could be brought us together.
Our humour was a release and a support mechanism that allowed us to cope better with the pressure of achieving ambitious goals. At BISS Puxi our team sports educators and myself push the students to be the best they can be in a controlled environment. There are times we push them hard. There are also times where we encourage them to smile, to laugh and to let the fun of sports flow. This comes with experience and its an experience I am very happy to share.
There is a fine edge between humour and saying something hurtful. There is also a choice when to be serious and when to laugh. These lines are often crossed in competitive elite athletics and competitors seek a psychological advantage.
I learnt, over time that I could not control other people’s mind games and words, but I could control how I reacted to it. The Great Britain training environment is a strange one. You are team mates all pushing each other to be the best that we could be. You are fierce competitors, all striving to take the last coveted spot in the GB team for a championship or the Olympics. You are friends that have been through so much together and genuinely love each other’s company. Each athlete can play any one of these roles at different parts of the day.
I clearly remember one GB training session where one of the team who had been beating me hands down on many of the training sessions we had done. He started to tease me about how he was going to beat me and leave me in his wake. It was jovial, with a serious edge. At this point, I had a choice – I can either let self doubt enter my mind or I could double my resolve. I reminded my fellow athlete that it all comes down to the competition race and that history means nothing when it comes to winning competition. It was a bold statement given that he had clear evidence that his times were better than mine. However, I chose to take a higher ground and remain positive.
Whilst the pressure and phycological gamesmanship is obvious in elite sports, it is true in every walk of life that sometimes humour, however well intentioned may hurt. At BISS Puxi we train our students not to shy away from this competitive spirit but to understand how to manage it and how to make the right choices to become the best you can be.
I have to admit that there is a tendency to laugh at the misfortune of others on the international athletics circuit. Cruel as it may seem it is part and parcel of the environment we are in and you have to learn to deal with it. Sometimes you’re the person laughing and other times you are the subject of the laughter! You just have to roll with it.
The relay comes with it more than its fair share of calamity. It’s a discipline where many things can go wrong and usually do. I remember one year the Jamaican relay team were competing. Typically runners would look at the big screen before they run and view the previous races. In this instance, a Jamaican athlete running third in the relay was relaxing and watching the big screen as usual. What he did not realise at first was that he was not looking at a previous race – he was looking at his own race.
As it dawned upon him that it was actually his race he was watching, it was his team member racing around the corner and that he was hopelessly out of position, and the look of complete horror on his face was a picture to behold. Equally, when his team member arrived at top speed and realised that the athlete was not there to meet him calamity met with mayhem which met with complete fits of giggles from athletes and spectators alike.
Everybody saw the funny side except perhaps the poor Jamaican team who had trained so diligently for what turned out to be a very public demonstration on how not to conduct a relay race. Athletics can be cruel. We all have to take the ups with the downs.
Humour is one of the key areas that attracts me to sport, and while good old fashion laughter is still the best remedy for relieving stress. Research has identified several styles of humour. There are both positive and negative sides to humour interaction. For example, affiliative humour; jokes that defuse tension and encourage interpersonal relationships through amusing others, leaves both parties feeling positive within the group. However aggressive humour on the other hand, aims to put down and demean others, often through sarcasm, ridicule and teasing. So in other words, to laugh with each other and not to laugh at each other. At BISS Puxi we love to have fun with sports and to do it in the right way.
We try to bring fun and humour into all the performance coaching we do at BISS Puxi. It’s important we help young people find their passion and develop their love of sport. However, I always have my eye on how I can help these students cope with the more challenging areas of sport to develop resilience so that in that moment when they need to perform – they can beat the best.
Next week I will take a look at I for Injury when Marlon will discuss how he has clawed himself back to fitness after a number of injury setbacks.
To read other Marlon's blogs, please click here.