Is sporting success all about winning?

Sporting success in tennis

The most recent tennis misdemeanour by Nick Kyrgios raises a debate of how we should measure sporting success.

At Queens, Kyrgios received a £13,766 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct. It’s not the first and probably won’t be the last one he’ll pick up.

Every time the Australian plays tennis, there is attention over what he might do. It’s old hat now. You can compare it to Ronnie O’Sullivan routinely saying he’s going to quit snooker. It’s the same old story and nothing changes.

Kyrgios pretty much seems like a normal mid-20s bloke. He likes playing computer games and doing different sports to tennis. His constantly updating rap sheet appears to bother outsiders more than it does the man himself.

It got me thinking just how much sports stars should really be bothered with winning?

Defining sporting success

Sporting success is largely measured in trophies while success in life is often underpinned by how much you earn. Money-wise sadly it’s a human trait, be it conscious or sub-conscious, that this notion works its way into the many conversations we have in life.

In a sports sense winning is the obvious goal. But winning occasionally or regularly? Because Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have ability to win regularly it’s claimed desire is the missing element of the Kyrgios makeup.

But Kyrgios seems content enough with his lot. At 24 he earns plenty of cash and can keep fit playing tennis to a high level. Looks win-win from where I’m sitting.

The trouble with tennis lies in its status as an individual sport. Anything slightly mischievous is heightened. Football has its fair share of sulky characters but these are hidden in teams. All sulks show on a tennis court.

Indeed, when the riches on offer to those with such talent are huge, where does the motivation come from? But if the athlete himself is genuinely not fussed then it’s more to do with fans and media demanding more.

Team sports

There are two examples in football – Winston Bogarde and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Bogarde made the sum total of 12 appearances at Chelsea. This was over four years. He was pilloried for sitting on the bench taking big money.

A biography on Bogarde quoted the player defending his very inactive stay in London.

“Why should I throw fifteen million euro away when it is already mine? At the moment I signed it was in fact my money, my contract. Both sides agreed wholeheartedly. I could go elsewhere to play for less, but you have to understand my history to understand I would never do that. I used to be poor as a kid, did not have anything to spend or something to play with. This world is about money, so when you are offered those millions you take them.”

Former Tottenham defender Assou-Ekotto was honest enough to admit he hated football, seeing it purely as a job.

The presumption to those of us who watch sports is to think it is not a job. Indeed, most of us associate a job with a stale, windowless office, strict 9-5 regime and pretty average pay. Nobody hands you or I a trophy for a solid week of work.

Should Kyrgios care?

Maybe the issue is with media commentators thinking Kyrgios ‘should’ care more. If I had the tennis talent and could go through a couple of rounds, pick up £35k plus, then great. But because he is being watched by people all over the world, there is this assumption that he should want more from tennis than he already gets.

Kyrgios is on record saying he doesn’t really like the game. Becoming a sports person means you become public property – open to criticism, but they’re still just people.

Essentially if Kyrgios is happy with his life, spectators should be too.

Fortunately in tennis you don’t have to pay specifically to watch one player. You can see many on your ticket. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if you turn up to a Kyrgios match and there’s a 10% chance he might half-heartedly go for a return. Or play a shot behind his back with his eyes shut when his talent suggests he could fire a routine winner.

The normal fan can relate to him because they’ve also had a sulk when trying to play tennis. The difference is that since John McEnroe you don’t see it at the highest level and on such a regular basis.

Roll on Wimbledon for the next instalment in the Kyrgios debate.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

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