Ever changing times

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By Kabelo Mollo

There is always something afoot on social media. An interesting thread grabbed my attention this week. The genesis was a lady who I’ve gathered is around my age, tweeting that they’ve opted to pull their son out of under 15 A team rugby on his request.

She states they don’t want their son dealing with the trauma of crazed parents on the sidelines with unhealthy demands on the kids. It’s really unfortunate that there are adults acting so appallingly at under 15 games. It’s been twenty years since I played age group level sport, and it’s discouraging to learn that little has changed in that time.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Every parent believes their child is the next big star and unfortunately that makes some a little crazy. The lady from twitter singles out Afrikaans dads specifically but I suspect that’s just a function of demographics. In that part of the world, with that particular sport they will be the dominant group. She finds their behaviour so deplorable she’d rather her son stopped dealing with it completely.

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Recently Naomi Osaka a grand slam winning top women’s tennis player had an interesting exchange at a match. In the midst of a game having been heckled for the duration of the tussle, a teary Osaka asked the chair umpire whether she could address the offending member or section of the crowd. This was unprecedented and left the umpire hapless.

I was really surprised by that incident. One of the things we as sports fans have admired about sports stars from the past is their mental strength. I remember a commentator talking about Roger Federer’s great mental strength. His ability to move on to the next point without prejudice from what went before. The commentator was at pains to make us viewers understand how incredibly difficult that was. Indeed, one of Michael Jordan’s most famous quotes talks about his own mental strength. He’s made so many game winning shots, because he’s missed so many is the gist. I’m paraphrasing of course, but the idea is that he’s honed his mental toughness by keeping on, and by constantly seeking out the difficult moment in order to excel.

Many of the great players will talk about the hecklers or the “haters” feeding them some kind of fuel to deliver. Us sports fans will be familiar with the commentator’s analysis “they don’t boo the bad players” referring to a number of sports stars met by a chorus of boos at opposition sports stadia. That adverse atmosphere often propelling them to excellence. Someone on Twitter was saying Naomi Osaka and others are the second or third generation of professional athletes. That so called mental strength is not as much a feature for them. Wayne Rooney the former Manchester United star has spoken about experiencing loss one day and then arriving at training the following day to find the young stars in his team dancing and making merry at the training ground. The generational intersection making for an interesting discourse.

I wonder therefore, about the Twitter situation where that young boy has made the decision he no longer wants to play A team because of the adverse crowd interaction. I’m wondering, when is that young man going to develop a thick skin? Isn’t that one of the elements we all need for adulting? This is by no means encouraging abuse nor victim blaming, but I’m wondering whether or not there isn’t a case to be made for sticking it out or “toughing” it out. I have wondered out loud how a generation that is clearly defined by their feelings will go in a world where other generations are defined in spite of their feelings. Every day generation Z is on social media trying to get us elders to unlearn our toxic behaviours. While to us we wonder when they’ll get to grips with realities of adulting. The truth is, they’re defining their own reality. Much like Osaka, and Rooney’s teammates this current crop of talented athletes as well as their age mates are telling us to adjust our expectations. What we knew as hallmarks of star athletes is no longer the case. Rival and even home fans jeering and heckling will no longer be tolerated. The same is true for the average Joe in that generation.

In these ever changing times, with these generational clashes, I wonder whether the chasm will narrow or grow wider? Who will set the discourse and narrative and what will “normal” look like in five or so years’ time? The times they are a changing…