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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 08/03/2008 | 1 Comment

I am constantly taken aback at how negative the talk about sport is in Scotland. I was at a corporate hospitality do before the big rugby match today between Scotland and England at Murrayfield. One of the business leaders present took the podium. When talking about the game he pointed out he was dressed in black and said he was feeling despondent because the sun was beginning to come out and how he was praying for rain. The clear message was that Scotland could only win if the weather was awful. Then, ex Scotland rugby captain David Sole and ex England rugby internationalist Jason Leonard did a turn talking about the forthcoming match. Sole was also extremely negative. Apparently these two put on a regular bet on the Calcutta cup. Leonard, understandably, bet on England winning. Sole told us he was going to let his ‘heart rule his head’ and go for a narrow Scottish victory. In other words, he was hoping Scotland would win but really thought otherwise.

In the end Scotland won 15 to 9. After the game, Leonard and Sole returned to the podium to give their comments. As Sole took his £20 winnings from Leonard he said ‘no doubt I’ll be giving you it back next year’ – a text-book example of pessimism in the face of good events. Rather than see success as something sustainable, pessimists see it as luck, a one-off, something we can’t count on. It’s a way of looking at the world which is extremely common in Scotland.

I am certainly not of the view that self-belief is everything. I witnessed some primary school pupils give a presentation on confidence recently and winced as they read quotes from sports stars and celebrities (mainly American) about how you always, always have to believe in yourself no matter what others say. Unfortunately this is the mentality of the Pop Idol competitor whose performance is abysmal but he or she will not accept any negative feedback and often, egged on by family, have a go at the judges.

Contrary to the myth of modern times success is usually dependent on a huge amount of skill and hours and hours of practice. Luck can play some part (ie being in the right place at the right time). Contacts can help too. However, we often ignore the importance of the sheer skill involved and what it takes to develop this. I am deliberately avoiding using the word talent as I think the psychologist, Carol Dweck is right. Too much emphasis is put on talent, or natural ability. What often matters is having the passion to put in hours of practice; the openness to keep learning; and the willingness to persist in the face of failure. This is where self-belief comes in. It is enormously helpful if we can believe that we can reach our goal eventually. Without this self-belief we are likely to give up and lose energy.

The American academic Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues in her book Confidence that winning and losing are often not isolated incidents but come as a ‘streak’. The reason for this is that the positive energy caused by winning is so beneficial for motivation, relationships, commitment, investment etc that it leads to an upward spiral, thus making future wins more likely. Losing has the opposite effect.

So coming back to Scotland what we have to keep asking ourselves is this: is Scotland’s erratic sporting performance because we keep cawin the feet from ourselves? Can we start building on success rather than constantly distrusting and discounting it?
Comment By Comment
Johnny Walker
Joined: 23/01/2008

Comment Posted: 10/03/2008 22:24

I totally agree with your observations on the negative mindset that exists around Scottish sport and even more disappointing is the David Sole anecdote. We seem to have acquired this attitude in recent times and I put it down to a ‘negative drizzle’ that has seeped into every pore of Scottish society. I keep hearing “what do you expect, we’re a small nation”, that’s not an excuse. New Zealand have an equivalent population to Scotland yet you won’t get the All Blacks walking onto the rugby field hoping they might win! Somehow we have lost our identity and have become a pale shadow of our proud heritage and tradition.

My Grandfather, who fought in the First World War, often told me of the German Soldiers that they captured, who always talked about how terrified they were of the 51st Highland Division, also known as the "devils in skirts" or "ladies from hell". German intelligence, which like the British kept a record of those enemy divisions that were opposite them in the line, had a league table of the divisions that fought harder than others, the 51st were the top of the German's list. My Grandfather used to put his kilt on and re-enact his exploits on the battlefield and would show me the way he ‘swaggered’ into battle. The courage he found to fight in this gruesome war was spurred on by the skirl of the pipes and the battles won made him proud to be Scottish.

Something needs to be done about the lack of enthusiasm for participation in sport in this country. If this mindset continues to exist then depressingly we would be better not participating at all. That would at least stop us from moaning about how bad we are at everything.

On a more positive note, with people like yourself, bringing the confidence issue to the fore, I look forward to the time when the Scots rediscover who and what they are, learn to walk tall, rejoice in the beauty of their homeland and take pride in their ability to exploit its rich heritage. As James A Froude, the English Historian once said: “No nation in Europe can look with more just pride on their past than the Scots, and no young Scotchman aught to grow up in ignorance of what that past has been.”

Johnny Walker
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