A World Cup winning coach tells me why sport's most sacred trait - mental toughness - is also its most dangerous.
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"Though the phenomenon of stoning players' houses may have disappeared, it might be only because coordinated bullying on social media is easier to sustain."
– Varun Shetty, Does India Have a Plan for the Mental Health of Its Players?
Paddy Upton knew he shouldn’t have been there. It was late at night, and he was on the outskirts of Cape Town, standing face-to-face with a man the city’s criminal underworld knew by the name 'Horrendous'.
Upton had left his dream job as performance director of the South African men’s cricket team and gotten involved in building a non-profit organisation that worked with the city’s street kids. That night, he had ventured too far into unfamiliar territory, walking straight into a terrifying scene.
Horrendous had stabbed his girlfriend multiple times. Catching sight of Upton trying to slip away, Horrendous cornered him.
That’s when Upton did something unthinkable: He reached out his arms and hugged Horrendous tight. His assailant dropped the knife and surrendered to the embrace. Upton describes it as 'one of the single most powerful emotional experiences' he'd ever had.
In his book The Barefoot Coach, Upton, who would go on to win the one day international World Cup with the Indian men's cricket team, reflects that the pressures of life on the street, which sucks people into a vortex of trauma and violence, aren't all that different from what happens in the boiling cauldron of professional sport. This week, Upton's seemingly incongruous comparison has rung painfully true.