Docuseries reflection: The playbook (Netflix)

Growth takes place out of your comfort zone.Dawn Staley

My mother, very often fondly recalls how I learned to swim before I learned how to walk. From then it wasn't long until I started formal swimming lessons and began training for competitive swim meets. I swam competitively until Year 7, when I took first place in every single heat, with the exception of the 100-metre butterfly, where I scraped in at third place, taking home the bronze medal for that heat. Over-all, I had the best time, for both the girls’ and boys’ divisions. Despite all that so-called ‘success’ and ‘achievement’, my heart ached a bit at the sight of that solitary bronze medal. I was training towards an all-gold year. Looking back now, as a mature-aged student and solo parent of a toddler, I realise that the ‘loss’ was more valuable than the wins. I was prouder of that bronze medal than I was of all the gold medals that year. I became a better athlete because of the experience of failing and learning from disappointment. The loss, as painful as it was as a 12-year old, helped build character. I learned to accept defeat graciously and how to pick myself up and train better, not harder. It brought our team together too.

Year 8, I found myself trying out for the girls’ soccer team. I was nervous. Although I was swimming as part of a team, I raced on my own. I felt like a fish out of water trying to be an athlete in a team contact sport. It turns out, I love being a team player. I played soccer as part of a team during all of my secondary school years and well into my years as a Master’s student. The lessons I learned as an athlete, as part of a team, through the wins and losses, through the blood, sweat, and tears, the friendships, the 4 a.m wakeups - it all prepared me for the larger experiences of the rest of my life. 

Below are some of my favourite lessons taken from The Playbook docuseries, but also learned firsthand as an athlete myself. I think these lessons echo through the experiences as a student, especially as a Ph.D. student. Supervisors and researchers who have gone before have always described a Ph.D. journey more like a marathon, than a sprint. Here’s to finishing the race!

Doc Rivers, NBA basketball coach. “Finish the race.” I understand that a degree is not everyone’s dream. Too often I’ve been told that studying for a Ph.D. is a waste of time, but having grown up in a third-world country where education is more a privilege than a right, I’ve developed a special appreciation for access to education. I’m really lucky that both sides of my family all have tertiary degrees. I think having given birth to a girl, I only hope to show her that she has this freedom to choose her own path too. The journey towards a PhD degree has had lots of stops and starts for me now; maternity leave, pandemic lockdowns, emergency surgeries, and so on. I am starting to see some of those in my cohort submitting their thesis and preparing for graduation. I might be taking a bit longer, but I am determined to finish the race.

Here are a few more quotes from the docuseries. I hope some of them give you the motivation you need for this week!

Jill Ellis, USA Women’s soccer team coach. “If you want to be heard, make a statement.” Look up the following words: gender pay gap and the USA women’s soccer team. They really wanted to be heard, but they made sure they didn’t just use their voices. They took action. What’s more is that their performance and their professionalism demonstrated the statement they were making.  

Jose Mourinho, Coach to Manchester United, Chelsea FC, Real Madrid FC, and many others. “If you are prepared for the worst, you are prepared.” 

Patrick Mouratoglou, Coach to Serena Williams and others. “Mistakes are inevitable, but don’t let them define you.”

Tagged in What messes with your head, sport, health and wellbeing