By Muyiwa Adetiba

Like in many things we do, the games we play often reveal our character. Those who cheat in sports will invariably cheat in business. I once read an article of a man who got himself a good business partner simply because of the way he conducted himself on a squash court.

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What the expatriate businessman saw in 30 minutes of a furious squash game was a decent, honourable man with whom he could do business in real life. I can relate with that.

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I often use the games I play to assess the character traits of my opponents. The cautious, the aggressive, the laid back, the impatient can be identified from the way they play their favourite games. So are the cheats and the manipulators who dispute every point and seek their own advantages in every situation.

On another level, many good boxers have failed to become world champions because they are said to lack the killer instinct. Many talented tennis players cannot close out games because of nerves or the same killer instinct. Many gifted golfers cannot win as many Majors as they would have because of temperament and focus.

Many athletes become unnecessarily aggressive when a little patience would have made a difference. Most of these traits are loosely grouped under the term: ‘Mental Strength.’ It is said to be what separates a talented athlete from a successful one.

Mental Strength also includes the ability of an athlete to let go of an earlier mistake. You often see a football defender who has let in an own goal constantly shake his head for the remainder of the game.

Or a golfer who has popped his ball into water or a bunker and can’t seem to forgive himself. Or a tennis player whose forehand is too long on a crucial point and keeps muttering to himself thereafter. Some athletes just completely fall apart and lose the plot. Many have had to go into therapy or hire coaches to teach them how not to be too hard on themselves. Letting go is the bane of many athletes—and many of us.

As part of mental strength, one of the first things I was taught as a young boy learning chess, was not to be too dependent on any officer, especially the Queen. Many of us either lost interest in a game or out rightly accepted defeat once we lost our Queen. While the Queen is the most powerful officer on a chess board, it could be lost as easily as a pawn through carelessness. And although the chances of winning a game are seriously reduced without a Queen, it is far from impossible.

Besides, nothing says the opponent cannot also lose his Queen through carelessness or over confidence. So we had to learn that a game was not necessarily lost because of a Queen. To buttress that point, our coach would remove the Queen before a game or at any point during a game and ask us to continue.

Another valuable lesson I learnt as a young chess player which I wish I had used more in real life was not to panic or lose hope because of the loss of an officer no matter how important or strategic the officer’s position is.

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Since a chess game is not lost until the King is completely surrounded, the involuntary thing for me when I lost an officer was to look at the board, not necessarily to count what was left but to see how the remaining officers were placed. The next thing was to readjust and re-strategize. In chess as in life, a loss is not necessarily the end. And one can still achieve one’s goal with just a couple of men standing. This lesson is unfortunately something I still struggle with in my daily life. I still fret over mistakes and losses.

I don’t make quick, decisive moves to rectify a situation the way I would have done in a chess game. More importantly, I don’t always look at what’s left on the board until I am forced to because I am often too busy worrying about what has gone. I wonder if I am speaking indirectly to a guilty reader on this.

I once had a colleague who had a very rapid rise in life. What you could truly call a phenomenal rise. In our mid-thirties when many of us were still struggling with basic bills, he had moved to a house in Ikoyi with a garden and two official cars in the garage.

It got into his head as it would many young men, and couldn’t handle the envy and intrigues around him. He unfortunately had a major clash with some board members which threatened his job. In trying to cheer and counsel him, I told him to look at what he had which nobody could take—his education, his skills, his brain, his charm and his youth. These attributes were largely responsible for his phenomenal rise in the first place and he could still do it again even if he had to start all over.

His answer was that he already liked it in Ikoyi and his wife had started planting flowers in the garden. How could he just give it all up? In the end, he could not handle the loss and almost became a broken man. If only he had the Mental Strength to look at what he had left on the board and re-strategise.

This year has been a tough one for many of us. Many of us have made mistakes that have proved costly. Many have lost businesses and incomes. Many have lost a life-style that has taken years to acquire. Worse, many have lost loved ones.

But hey, the day is still breaking, the sun is still shinning and the bird is still singing. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity. Whatever it is we have lost in 2018, we still have a lot left on the board, chief of which is life. ‘Though much is taken, much abides’ to quote Lord Alfred Tennyson in the poem Ulysses. And while there is life, there is always hope.

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As we step into the New Year, let us not dwell on what is taken but on what still abides. Let us look at what is left on the board, readjust and re-strategise for the coming months and years. Nigeria with all its faults, is a land of opportunities. And for all our past mistakes, there is almost, always, a second chance. And…don’t wait for a miracle this year. Make your own miracle happen.

Here is wishing everyone a Happy New Year.


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