The power of ‘E’


“WE just gave the game away” said Fred, venting his frustration. He was lamenting the loss by Malaysia in the crucial match to New Zealand in the recent Hockey World Cup qualifying tournament held in Invercargill, New Zealand. With that loss Malaysia missed out on a place in the 2010 Hockey World Cup in New Delhi.

“After taking the lead, our players came out in the second half lacking fire and fight. Instead of piling on the pressure they were on the back foot and tried to play the containment game.

So when New Zealand upped the tempo our boys could not find the ‘fighting spirit’ to match their intensity.”

I do not doubt Fred’s judgement as I was not there to witness the game and furthermore, he is the sports psychologist for the Malaysian team and he should know.

Having had some experience in sports as a player, official and observer, I am aware of the power of the ‘fighting spirit’. Nearly 20 years ago the Sarawak football team sporting the insane moniker of ‘Ngap Sayot’ and the fearsome motto of ‘Agi udip agi ngelaban’ (which can be loosely translated as ‘fight till the last breath’) used to send chills down the spines of the opposing teams. Our players might have been small in stature, short on football techniques and skills but they more than made up with their sheer fighting spirit. That was the time when the Sarawak stadium was known as the cauldron of fire, which the visiting teams from the other states feared to tread.

Sports managers, coaches and motivators all know the power of that acute emotion, which can be translated into ‘fighting spirit’. It is the jet fuel that can supercharge performance. In last week’s Derby between two top English football premier clubs, Arsenal’s less than sparkling performance in the first half saw them trailing Liverpool by one goal. Arsenal’s captain Cesc Fabregas revealed that a furious tirade by Arsene Wenger at half-time inspired the Gunners to come from behind and condemn Liverpool to a 2-1 defeat.

“The boss screamed. I’ve never seen him like that before. He was really disappointed in the first half and said we didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that. And I think he was right,” said Fabregas. Wenger was able to transfer the heat of his anger into the players and they emerged from the interval with fire in their bellies, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

While we can never quite know what goes on in an actual team’s locker room, we can get a fair idea from a Hollywood depiction of it. Take a look at a scene from the movie ‘On Any Given Sunday’. In that movie Tony D’Amato (played by Al Pacino) — the head coach and general manager of an American football team — gave a rousing speech to his demoralised players at half time. It so fired them up that they emerged from the locker room like bats out of hell. Like raging bulls they went on to flatten their opponents. That speech known as ‘Inch by inch’ is considered by many as one of the most motivating speeches — it can be view on YouTube.

That’s the magical power of emotion. However, as Daniel Goleman, the author of ‘Emotional Intelligence’, the landmark book on the subject of emotion, pointed out: extreme emotion is a two-edged sword. It is just as capable to hinder as to enhance performance. Like a strong drink, it could as well sharpen the mind or blow a mental fuse.

Goleman coined the term ‘emotional hijack’, a condition where extreme emotion is so overwhelming that intelligence and common sense are nullified.

For example, take the case of the learned professor Z. He is the holder of double PhDs and by all accounts, a very intelligent man.

One day, as he was driving to work in his brand new Mercedes, he was bumped from behind by a careless driver.

The sight of the damage to his prized car incensed the good old professor so much that he went absolutely berserk. Using his car jack he smashed the other car and for good measure broke the arm of the other driver.

Now this was a very intelligent man who should know full well that the damage to the rear end of his Mercedes was nothing compared to the damage he inflicted on the other car and driver.

Though not to such a dramatic scale, we witness such occurrences of emotional hijack quite often.

Take for instance the case an organisation which is facing a serious crisis, a crisis which demands that its leaders work together to find a solution. Due to some past misunderstandings, however, the leaders so dislike each other that rather than closing ranks to work together they spend their energy attacking each other.

Logic dictates that in the face of imminent organisational collapse, they should overlook their differences. However, their emotions and pride prevent them from doing so. Their intelligence and common sense have been held at abeyance.

The positive value of strong emotion is well illustrated by the story of one mother. It was a sunny afternoon when Mrs Brown and her 10-year-old son went for a Sunday drive.

As she rounded a bend, the blinding sun caused her to lose control of the car.

The car turned turtle and while the mother managed to crawl out, her son was firmly trapped. To make matter worse, the fuel tank broke and leaking petrol threatened to ignite the car.

Without proper equipment the passers-by could not free the boy. At any moment he could be engulfed in a burning inferno. Then to the amazement of all, the frantic mother lifted the 1,000 kg car clean off the ground to allow the rescuers to pull the son clear.

Such is the duality of the power of extreme emotion. It is as William Shakespeare said in ‘Macbeth’:

“As whence the sun ‘gins his reflection’ Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break, So from that spring whence comfort seem’d to come Discomfort swells.”

The same source which brings good could very well be the same source which bring bad.

Goleman and many other authors on the subject of emotional intelligence offer a comforting thought.

Firstly, they all say that while traditionally we have always considered Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a basis of success, recent research has shown that Emotional Quotient (EQ), the ability to manage one’s emotion, has a greater influence on the chance of success. Secondly, while the IQ in a person remains relatively constant, EQ on the other hand, can be improved through training and practice.

It is indeed a great comfort to know that it is within our means to avoid the destructive trap of this force of ‘E’ and that we can harness its constructive power to our advantage.

(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])