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Keep your eye on the ball

  • By Alan Knott-Craig
  • March 7, 2011

Did you watch the Proteas snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yesterday? For the umpteenth time, our national cricket side has caved in when victory seemed assured.

Why? Most of the commentators seem to be blaming mental weakness and a tendency to “choke” in high-pressure situations.

As tempting as it is to blame weak parenting (because that can be the only cause of mental weakness,) I disagree.

I think its overconfidence. The batsman is thinking, “We’ve won the game, I wonder how many girls I’m gonna score tonight?” instead of, “Here comes that git Stuart Broad, slow to medium pace, THWACK, to the boundary.”

We’ve all experienced it. Playing squash and being 8-2 up, taking your foot of the pedal (to the give the other guy a chance) and losing 8-10. AC Milan saw the movie when they lost to Liverpool in the European Cup final after being 3-0 up at half time. MySpace had 150million customers when Facebook was still a wet dream.

You’re cruising to victory and instead of focusing for the last 10 yards; you let your mind wander to thoughts of self-congratulation and future victories. And then you lose.

Overconfidence breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

It seems no coincidence that the man with the most humility in the South African side, Hashim Alma, scored the most runs (out of the recognised batsmen, the bowlers can’t be expected to chase a target.) He was probably the guy least likely to take victory for granted and, hence, focused on the moment at hand.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to wake up to the danger before the game ends and save ourselves. A good example was the Springboks in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against Fiji. The Boks were cruising to victory when suddenly the Fijians scored three breathtaking tries and our boys were behind, with their tails between their legs.

The sense of panic on the field was palpable, heightened by the natural rising of the crowd behind the underdog Fijians. Lucky for us, John Smit came off the bench, pulled the men together, snapped them out of their fugue, and we managed to sneak home.

We were ten minutes and one good leader away from exiting the World Cup.

What are the lessons we can learn for business?

No matter how well things are going, resist the temptation for self-congratulation.

Don’t take your eye off the ball until the job is done. And if you do, pray you have someone to pull you towards yourself before the English bowl you out for 166.

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