It’s nothing new to hear if you’re a sportsperson, a coach, a journalist, a fan— really anyone who has any connection to or interest in the sports industry. It’s what is said after a bad team loss or an individual performance that went wrong— maybe it’s been one of those days when things just weren’t good enough, and the result left much to be desired.

 

“We get up, and we go again.”

 

It’s a phrase spoken frequently and dismissed equally often. It pops up too much when we’re in bad form and is seen as a resignation by some rather than an acknowledgement of the need for improvement. I would be lying if I said I could count every win and loss I’ve had across all competitions when it comes to pistol shooting, but I can certainly confirm that the defeats are what stick with me far more clearly than the victories.

 

“Get up, and go again.”

 

A monotonous reprise. A tiring statement when things haven’t been going our way for a little too long. A painful admission when we stumble after seemingly being on the way up. I have, hopefully, only just started my journey with sport at that level— but I’ve heard it being used for others and have used it for myself, already, one too many times to think it through.

 

The summer Olympics that took place last year truly threw me deep into an ocean whose waves had only softly caressed my feet before. An ocean is calm but unpredictable, gentle yet powerful. There is much to learn in the world of sport if you survive the current first. Because it does its best to pull you under— and if you slack for even a moment— it always succeeds.

 

I learned the concept pretty quickly. It’s not like I haven’t used it before— for state competitions, poor grades, or even bad days. It’s there for everyone, of all walks of life, but perhaps slightly more significant for sportspeople. Those are the words we must come to terms with after every loss or every poor performance each time it happens. It’s the phrase my favourite teams and players use when they must address the game to the eyes looking on, and it’s what I have found myself repeating after my own downfalls.

 

I always wondered why it’s looked down upon the way it is by so many people. We can’t exactly go back and change what we did, and we can only look to what we can change in the future. I have come to the conclusion that it has more to do with the perception that we have, at some point, given up— or that we aren’t doing enough to change— theories that you never wish to hear as a player.

 

Sport is bread and butter for some of us, while it may not be for those of us in fields that aren’t particularly marketable. However, it is still what we all dedicate a considerable amount of time and passion to. I’m still new to this, and I’m still learning the ropes, but so many of the biggest athletes have sacrificed so much to be where they are. The criticism is necessary sometimes, and sometimes it is much too swift and harsh. Some things are easier to digest, perhaps, from the outside looking in— it’s easier to think about all that went wrong than experience everything slipping away bit by bit.

 

Over the past few months, I have seen the multiple shades of the sky that this ocean reflects. The gloomy grey of a bad day, with slow waves lapping at the shore— the calm before the storm that was sure to follow. The sun that shines over an endless blue of good days at practice and in competitions, coupled with a soft breeze that is easy to inhale and exhale. The clouds that roll in when the exhaustion catches up, chasing the blue away with a vengeance. The miraculous way sun rays break through the dark blanket and leave a glint atop the waves, days when the worst of the storm does pass, when you genuinely understand how momentous sixty shots, two halves, five attempts, or multiple rounds can prove to be.

 

There’s more than one lesson here, to be honest. To streamline those lessons to one would be taking a conservative look at all the values sports can equip you with, but it all does interconnect in someplace. You have to confront a harsher truth in sport and life: everybody has bad days. The beginners. The amateurs. The best athletes there are. Everybody messes up— on the biggest and smallest of occasions, on the greatest and least important stages. The World No. 1 has gotten a tremble in her hands when she pulled the trigger on her rifle for a shot that decided a medal. The captain has skied a crucial and decisive penalty kick over the crossbar in an Olympic final. The best batsman has made lousy contact with a ball in his swing, one that flew straight to the wicketkeeper’s gloves. The tennis player considered the young breakout star just couldn’t find their footing against an opponent they should have easily defeated.

Every example I cited is kept anonymous, but all of it is based upon reality. It’s happened with far more than a handful of players in different times and situations. No one person can be picked out here, really— because it happens more often than we notice it does.

 

So, with that established, what can we do? The main thing we can control is putting our best foot forward. We can try for it, make our averages better, and work as hard as we can to come close, but we can’t necessarily be perfect. Our aim as sportspeople is always to strive for perfection, but it is unrealistic to expect ourselves and others to get it right every time. There will be times when something just isn’t clicking physically or mentally, and the most certain thing we can do is give our best, whatever our best is at the time. Take a deep breath before the action we’re about to do, lift our head a little and pull self-confidence from wherever we can. There’s certainly a lot of regrets attached with a bad game, but there’s so, so much more sorrow attached with knowing you did not put your best foot forward. It’s important to understand that our capacities can change slightly with each practice session and competition, and the most we can give does too. What we can do is work through the bad days well enough to ensure that the future has more of the opposite.

 

And then it all boils down to this. We learn to get up and go again. In the worst of times, they say, you must remember why you started when you feel like giving up the most. I have trouble doing that sometimes— sometimes, the past does not seem to hold relevance in the present you’re hyperfocused on. The first time I played Nationals, I failed to qualify— something I should have and could have done with ease but could not. I was in good form, but so many things had gone wrong that day— and most crucially, I had lost the mental battle I could not afford to lose. Shortly after, the pandemic hit, and practice became more of an obligation than a personal decision. I didn’t get back to that form until recently, right before my second Nationals.

 

I nearly bottled it all over again. But I barely got through, somehow.

 

And that is where I had to ask myself if I was truly cut out for all of it. Messing up twice in a row isn’t a good look— no matter what the result. And I almost did give it all up. It took two days of processing, podcasts from other athletes, and watching more matches that I was only viewing as a fan for the phrase to really, really hit me. That is the aspect that those uninvolved in the process perhaps do not catch at times: we as sportspeople have only two real options. Injury breaks and breaks for mental and physical rebuilding aside, we can’t do much aside from picking ourselves up and brushing off the dirt. The other option would be actually giving up, a decision that encompasses not just the present but so much of the past— every sacrifice, every moment of willpower and grit, every bad day and every good day. People have their own reasons for letting go, ones that aren’t mine or yours to question— but to simply not try because of a fear of failure— that would be a choice I knew I would regret.

 

It became more rhythmic after that. Get up, go again, upagain, and up, and again. And I have so far found it reflecting in the way I go about practice as well as life itself, in a positive way for the most part. I have a little bit more willpower. Inklings of self-confidence in complex situations that I didn’t have before. What is the worst that can happen? Giving up before even giving it a go has started seeming impractical for some things.

 

I don’t know where I’ll end up with sport or how far I’ll be able to go. But I know that I will keep this lesson with me after all of it, too, because it’s possibly one of the most impactful ones I’ve learnt in a long time. And I hope it helps you find your footing after a tumble too, the way it has done for me so many times.

– Yashasvini Verma, Amity International School, Noida

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