Disappointments & Instinct: hand in glove

jumbish-runners-up-at-suo-2016At my age and my levels of emotional stability, it feels rather peculiar to feel disappointment at losing the finals of a sports tournament, but that’s I am feeling right now. This post is an attempt to articulate those feelings for a better understanding of the nature of the human mind, of course, with reference to my mind in this case.

I’ve been playing Ultimate Frisbee for the last 6 years, and in the last 2 years with this amazing team called Jumbish, consisting mainly of 16-17 year old boys & girls from humble backgrounds! We’ve been consistently rising up through the rankings over the last 2 years and we are currently ranked 5th among the 50-odd clubs in India.

Yesterday, we played our first ever finals of an open tournament at Surat Ultimate Open 2016 and lost 12-14 to Dream Catchers of Ahmedabad. We played a very poor 1st half (4-8) but came back strongly in the 2nd half (8-6), but ran out of time.

I must admit that I feel disappointed, especially as we felt that we have a strong squad and being our homeground we expected that we would win. But then this is what sports is about. Losing as much as it is about winning. But I must clarify that the disappointment stems not from losing, but the way we lost.

We played like the first time finalists that we were: showed a lot of nerves, made a bunch of poor decisions and kept making similar mistakes almost to the end. That’s probably the more jarring bit, that the difference between winning and losing was not about skills or even strategy, but about how, as a team, we could’ve won had we kept our cool. Instead of making those 50:50 long passes (known as hucks) taken shorter but surer passes, instead of forcing a throw to a player instinctively, take a second to reconnoitre the field of play and then taking the less “sexier” option. But then perhaps that’s what someone who’s 37 says when the average age of the team is circa 16 years.

And that brings me to instinct, the necessary but an often misleading driver of our decision making process bestowed upon us by years of survival in the big bad jungle. Call it an evolutionary bias if you will, but I guess we know that running away at full speed is the safest and therefore the best option before us when under threat. I believe that human brain needs to be “matured” differently to be able to curb your natural instinct in non-life threatening situations, such as, playing a game. The adrenalin rush tells us to just go for it. Just experienced this yesterday when I was really short on fuel in my car while I was on the road a few klicks away from the nearest petrol pump. And my instinct was telling me to really put my foot on the pedal to get there quickly against before I run out of fuel. I really had to curb that instinct of mine to take the far more rational act of maintaining a lower and a consistent speed.

The conundrum that remains is how to train these 16 year olds to behave rather “un-naturally” in high-adrenalin rush situations like the first ever finals of their lives! I am reminded of the famous marshmallow test for kindergartners which seems to predict quite strongly the correlation between a 4 year old’s ability to delay gratification to get a bigger reward and the chances of success that they have in life ahead of them, especially in academic and economic terms, which are in many ways very “un-natural” activities.

An excellent example, this episode, of it means to be human: the large range of emotions that a completely “useless” activity such as play brings about, and the ability of the human mind to be both driven by instinct, and to be able to step out completely and take a rational and objective view of his/her own condition; how time is all about perspective, and how we are indeed social and inter-dependent, albeit in a multi-varied ways.

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