St Peter's School
There is plenty of sport going on at present with the Rugby World Cup starting today in Japan and the Ashes having finished a few days ago. For fans of England cricket it has been a bitter-sweet summer with the amazing success of winning the World Cup for the first time earlier this year and then drawing the Ashes series with two wins apiece and one draw but, as Australia won the last series, they retain the Ashes until the two sides meet again in 2021.
There were many standout moments from the series. Perhaps the most amusing featuring Old Peterite Jonny Bairstow pretending to have the ball in his hands and faking a stumping to fool Steve Smith into making a diving slide through the dust and grass. A video which I retweeted from England Cricket who described it as their ‘moment of the summer’. The highlight for most though was probably Ben Stokes scoring 135 not out in the Third Test to win the game and keep the Ashes alive. His remarkable innings made all the more incredible by the constant loss of wickets until the last batsman, Jack Leach, came in with England still needing 73 runs to win with one wicket remaining. The two combined beautifully to keep Stokes on strike as much as possible with Leach scoring just the one run but crucially keeping his wicket while Stokes played some of the most outrageous shots seen at Headingley since Ian Botham in the legendary Ashes Test of 1981. The best innings by an English batsman ever? Considering the stakes, the quality of the opposition and the pressure loaded on one person – in my opinion, yes and certainly the best I have in forty-odd years of following cricket.
So why mention a cricket innings this morning apart from perhaps re-living a glorious moment of the summer? The real reason is not so much the shots that we did see but all the practice that we didn’t which enabled Stokes to put together such an astonishing achievement. Not so long ago Ben Stokes was in court charged with assault and like others, I still find it difficult to overlook the violence he showed which was caught so graphically on CCTV. However what has emerged since then is details of how Stokes trains harder and longer than any other member of the team, determined to make the most of his God-given potential and leave his errors in the past.
Nothing he did on the day would be possible without countless hours of practice beforehand and it is that thought which is uppermost in my mind today. That practice and performance are not separate entities but one integrated whole – the yin and the yang – just that practice is often unseen. Many of you will have heard of the book ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell in which he examined examples of successful people to ascertain what lay beneath their achievements. While there were several unique factors such as background, opportunity and even the date of birth the one uniting factor he discovered was what he called the 10,000 Hours rule. Put simply he reckoned that whatever the field of success, behind it lay 10,000 hours of practice whether that be in business, sport, music or any other field of endeavour. As with most theories there are those who challenge Gladwell’s thesis but the age-old adage of practice makes perfect still holds true.
And this is something which we can see clearly on a daily basis. A fantastic game of girls’ hockey yesterday, strong rugby performances at the weekend, pupils receiving music exams certificates today, Will getting into the final of Chorister of the Year, the singing and reading we all enjoyed in the Rise House Chapel yesterday. All around us evidence of diligent practice leading to excellent achievement. Practice is of course also something that we can find challenging whether it is revision, going over and over musical scales, lineout drills or rehearsing short corner routines. So there is a certain art to enjoying practice and seeing it as an integral part of the journey is a good start. The ancient Greek philosophers, starting with Parmenides and picked up by later scholars such as Thomas Aquinas held that ‘nihil ex nihilo fecit’ – to put it more simply, you don’t get owt for nowt – so enjoy the practice as much as the performance.