Lucy Mangan

“We should all give ourselves a sporting chance” Lucy Mangan on learning to appreciate sport

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Lucy Mangan
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For the first time in my life – aside from a few games of marbles with my cousins – I am seeing the point of sport. This has not, historically, been the case. I remained literally and figuratively unmoved throughout my school days on the hockey/netball pitch, devoid of any instinct to chase after the balls zooming past me (why would you? So tiring. And what was I going to do with one if I got it? Try and score a goal? I don’t think so).

When I started work, the only time anything sporty entered my life was when anyone in the office who was a fan of anything used to get special dispensation from management to skive off and watch “crucial” games (mostly because management were doing likewise and hey, the more people turning the boardroom into an outpost of Twickenham/Wembley, the better!). It used to drive me nuts because, by and large, it seemed very much a boy thing. I always wondered what would happen if I said I’d gathered a critical mass of women who wanted to watch the live stream of Burberry’s London Fashion Week offering on company time instead. Or take maternity leave, or something.

Now I work from home, my house has become a known refuge during all sporting events for those who wish to escape the tyranny of the schedules of FIFA/Wimbledon/the Olympic committee/whoever runs cricket. The only reason I knew Euro 2016 had started at all was that friends began turning up on my doorstep asking if they could stay for 90-minutes-plus-possible- extra-time and I had to start buying extra biscuits.

But this year is different. This year I am seeing all sorts of things that I never saw before. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because things in the news have been so bleak for so long, maybe it’s just my growing need to find something inspirational in the world, but I’m starting to look at sportsmen and women quite differently. 

As Wimbledon kicked off this week, I found myself wondering what it would be like to care about something so much, to be so dedicated to a goal. To not just fight for your place in a tournament, to then fight to win it too. To give it your all, to be driven to compete, to succeed. That must be – that must be…well… quite something.

Because, you know what drives me? Not a series of life goals, not ambition, not a longing to succeed. The fear of failure drives me. Guilt and anxiety take turns at the wheel. It’s wearying. What must it be like to have the confidence to challenge yourself, to embrace competition with others and spur yourself on to greater heights – reaching always for more, animated by the pursuit of progress rather than the endless fear of failure? There’s a courage and an optimism in sport that is so alien to me, yet I suddenly want to be part of it. 

While the rest of us are plunged into despair by a cancelled train or a bad hair day, sportspeople keep going. Defeat, relegation, injury – they just dig deep and carry on. This morning, alone in the house, I threw a strop because I couldn’t find the right knickers. It really wasn’t a constructive use of my time.

The more I think about it, regular participation in an activity larger than myself would do me good. Team mates could kick me up the arse when I have lost too much perspective to do it myself. Of course, my athletic prowess is severely limited (genetics + a lifetime of inertia) so I will have to start small. Tell me – are marbles still a thing?

Images: iStock/Rex