Chelsea triumph a lesson to all
Sports psychologist Gary Leboff explains how we could all benefit from paying close attention to Chelsea's Champions League success story...
I can honestly say I saw it coming. Watching Barcelona miss chance after chance in the Champions League semi-final last month, I turned to my son in the armchair alongside me and declared: "Forget it. Chelsea's name is already on the trophy."
I appreciate such things are easy in hindsight. My wife was certainly unimpressed as the shoot-out unfolded on Saturday night and I indicated my willingness to bet the house on a Chelsea success.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict the outcome of a sporting contest. The outcome is already clear if you pay sufficient attention.
Chelsea's victory was undeniably stunning. Not least because it was achieved, with all due respect, by comfortably the weakest side in the last four. However, it was a long way from unique. The stars aligned, as they always do, because commitment to the cause never wavered. The ‘Matthews Final’ of 1953 and Manchester United winning the European Cup ten years after Munich are two similar triumphs that echo across the ages.
Let’s change sports for a moment. The golfer, Sergio Garcia, has come tantalisingly close to winning a Major Championship on three occasions.
Garcia’s devastation at failing to do so was revealed by his despondent comments at the 2012 US Masters. One shot off the lead after two rounds, Garcia blew himself out of contention on Saturday and promptly declared he was destined never win a Major.
One of the most naturally gifted players in the game had reached the conclusion that ‘it is written’. Forces beyond his power to control – dark forces – had determined that his deepest golfing wish would remain unfulfilled. Garcia, quite simply, is resigned to his fate.
No club has been dealt a crueler hand in the Champions League than Chelsea. The 'phantom goal' of Anfield in 2005, Terry's slip in 2008, the refereeing fiasco of 2009. Nothing would have been easier for Chelsea than deciding ‘it is written’ and giving up on their Champions League aspirations.
But they didn’t. Feeling sorry for yourself may be an understandable response to adversity, but it leads to oblivion. Despite being tested beyond the bounds of endurance, Chelsea kept on believing. And an ageing squad stripped of key players through suspension captured the biggest prize in club football.
From a psychological standpoint, Chelsea refused to indulge in self-sabotage. In other words, they refused to use their bad luck as an excuse to under-perform, however ‘understandable’.
Self-sabotage is a pernicious phenomenon in any walk of life: those who exhibit such behaviour find life a struggle, success is elusive, happiness is fleeting and things never work out. Avoiding self-sabotage isn't easy but it is a choice: you take the crap, keep your head up and believe in your cause.
For those with the wisdom to look beyond the scoreline, Chelsea's triumph is instructive. It is a moral lesson with repercussions far beyond football. Hold fast to your beliefs no matter what, and victory will ultimately be yours.
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