Growing up in South Africa as a young boy I was immediately inspired by sports. The schools had well developed sporting systems to cater for a wide variety of activities and the teachers would often double as sports coaches, thereby making it sustainable.
From the age of 7, I started with junior tennis and rugby, however it was badminton and judo that particularly interested me. At age 13 I changed schools. The new school offered different sporting activities, and all children were obliged to take up a team sport; I did not realize at the time, but it was to encourage the values and discipline gleaned through such a team activity, such as respect and trust. I took outdoor hockey and water polo as my team sports. In both sports I excelled, becoming the youngest member of the school's first team. I however pursued hockey more avidly than water polo, winning the inter school league, participating in national school tours, winning several accolades and eventually playing school hockey at provincial level.
However approaching my final year in school I found myself being called back into Judo after an absence of 5 years, for mainly self-defense reasons. I chose a club where I was fortunate enough to train with South Africa's top ranked Judoka for 10 years, fighting in competitions and training with the best in the Western Cape Province and reaching a top 3 position. My coach became my mentor, his dedication and love for Judo flowed through in few words, it was however his actions, his demand for respect, discipline and performance that had the most profound impact me. He taught me to live and love the sport in a way that could serve me later in life. I remember his favorite sayings, “there is never a perfect moment”, “you must create the opportunity” or “you see, it is as simple as a pimple”.
After arriving in Mauritius 10 years ago, and due to a lack of time because of work constraints, I had to find a sport that was less time consuming and physically demanding than Judo, but one in which I could still maintain a high level of fitness; and so picked up a squash racket.
Squash is a game that requires speed, technique, precision, and stamina. Since, I have played my way into the top ranked in Mauritius and I have recently represented Mauritius in the 2012 'open' tournaments. At age 39, it was my first squash tournament of this level and the opponents were largely younger, with many more years of experience and a better technique. However one thing that always surprises me in any competition is no matter how many times I have participated in competitions, I still feel the butterflies and nerves. It is a most uncanny feeling that surely many competitors of any activity will feel.
And so I see sport more than just a physical activity; I see it as school of learning, teaching me to cross boundaries and limits previously not envisaged and taking me out of my comfort zones.
I believe that sport inevitably helps to develop and shape a person, also mentally, and what one learns in sport can be adapted to the context of daily life; teaching us team work, when to attack, when to defend, when to go back to the drawing board and strategize. There is also precision, lateral thinking, quick movement and sleight of hand, in anticipating and putting off the opponents move. These concepts can be taken to the board room, to an office environment or to a social or family scenario. Of course at varying degrees of participation but the basic concepts exist.
There is without saying the health benefits that are derived from practicing in sport and many sports and science journals would have already covered this, but more importantly for me are the friends and camaraderie that is made. Where ever I go in the world I can play a game and make a friend.
Over the years I have considered and often questioned, do good sportsmen make good businessmen? Or do good sportsmen remain good sportsmen and businessmen are a separate breed.
Do they not have similar traits? A drive to achieve, to overcome the adversary, team work, a sense of accomplishment, technique! We learn in sport to face and overcome a multitude of scenarios and problems and ultimately it helps us in facing varying life situations, and we get to learn in a fun way.
If we asked as a show of hands, how many top businessmen have played sport at a high level and / or still do, I would be interested in finding out how many side with sport. I certainly do.
It is no surprise then, that sport has accompanied me through my life. Whether I have felt bored, depressed, stressed, happy, overwhelmed, excited or simply the need to get back to reality, it is sport that has come through. I find that by doing a sporting activity that requires an alternate concentration and precision, I am able to focus elsewhere and take my mind off of the task at hand, and upon returning to the professional or social activity I often find myself thinking clearer and sharper.
A healthy body, results in a healthy mind.
Personally, I love that feeling of the challenge, being taken out of my comfort zone in a sporting context and having to dig deep to achieve. The business world is the same; always being confronted in difficult situations. I use my technique to position myself, to find my equilibrium, to attack, to defend and to go back and to analyze the situation. My wife and I are instilling the same values in our children, having them interested in a variety of sports and we know that this will give them the tools to face a tougher life that lies ahead.