The other night I watched a high school game where the score was 2-1 in the dying moments of the match. The team who was down a goal was awarded a free kick just outside of the 18 yard box. The brilliant strike smashes off the post and the ball is bouncing around before it is cleared. The team who was in the lead had a massive, powerful forward who picks up the cleared ball and dribbles hard to score on an open goal but from an off angle. A defender is chasing just behind him with a straight path to the goal and it is a race between him and the ball, but the ball is winning. The big forward sprints towards the defender and does an NFL style shoulder dive at the knees taking out the defender in an illegal play that injures the player who gave chase. The ref who was shockingly bad all game calls no foul, awards the goal, and the match ends. The forward takes his shirt off and sprints to the far corner flag as his entire team clears the bench and runs over to cheer and chant. "Fuck (name of school)!!!". Loud and clear, over and over. Sportsmanship at its finest. The losing team is in complete disarray and no one does a thing but sulk.
This got me thinking about the concept of aggression and honor. I have yet to get to honor (though I believe there are times when it is right to fight for it), but I did some research on aggression. The confusion around its place in sport and society can be summed up by quotes from two men who are largely considered some of the most influential minds in science.
“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or [a] partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all.
“Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but ... a powerful measure of desire for aggression had to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment.
SIGMUND FREUD, Civilization and its Discontents”
Confusing, ain't it?
I recently heard Laird Hamilton (best big wave surfer of all time) in an interview say that he doesn't like competitive sports. He joked that he hates to lose. The real point he made is that what if you beat someone or a team and they just suck, where is the joy in that?
NO BIG DEAL
He said he prefers overcoming personal challenges instead, such as his love of surfing massive fucking walls of water that can kill you. He also went on to say that if you bring the wrong energy or mindset into the ocean, say anger, the ocean will teach you a lesson. In my 2 years or so of surfing, I have noticed that when I am desperate to catch a wave and competing with people around me I tend to have a rough time in the water. Sometimes it is related to anger turned inwards that I am afraid of wiping out. When I simply enjoy being out there and stay relaxed, paddle hard when the wave comes, pop up like I mean it, and I am willing to wipe out and trust the consequences wont be that bad, I perform closer to my potential. Soccer can be the same way in that it will reflect back to you on the outside what you have going on inside. What does this have to do with aggression?
Aggression gets a bad rap as being the same as anger. I think it can have elements of anger, perhaps a moment in a hard tackle where in your mind you say something like "get the fuck off of me". Just me? But ideally the anger should fade. Anger and sustained aggression is energy consuming, tension creating, and sub-optimal. If you have not watched the new Netflix movie on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I highly recommend it. WAY better than that cheesy Ronaldo movie. You will notice that in his early days, while he was a massive talent from the start, Zlatan had some anger issues. Eventually he learned to channel them properly, but I would argue that initial aggressive instinct is part of what makes him so special and able to do the extraordinary.
The ability to keep a calm, quiet mind, but one willing to risk both in terms of making mistakes and our physical bodies. The mindset to go out there and dominate a soccer game requires letting go of the outcome and allowing your innate primal instincts to kick in. Perhaps it is our fragile ego mind thinking too much that turns the ride dose of aggression into ego based anger and losing control.
Watch Messi dribble in the video below - it is controlled aggression at its finest.