John in happier times, en route to winning a trophy in an MCA event in Winnipeg years ago. File

John White: Seizing the moment, or seizing up

It's one of the hardest things to do in sports.

Remember that Eminem song about seizing the moment, involving mom’s spaghetti and such?

Lose Yourself is a rap about rising above the pressure and fear at a critical moment that changes your life. Many sports teams have used this as a pump-up track for their athletes. When you examine the lyrics, you see why:

“Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture or just let it slip?”

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.”

“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”

I still get chills when I listen to this track, and I’m pretty far removed from competitive sports. After watching the fourth quarter of the Minnesota Vikings playoff game on the weekend (something told me to watch, I can’t explain why as I haven’t watched NFL all year) and the four lead changes in the last two minutes — including the last-play-of-the-game winning touchdown pass and run — it all came rushing back.

Those players were able to set aside the outcome of their actions and focus on execution, one of the hardest things to do in sports when your brain knows it’s all on the line in one instant.

I managed to succeed at this on only a few occasions. Once, when I was 17 and a kicker in midget football, I somehow managed to make a 30-yard field goal with a minute left in a game to score the winning points. I visualized making the same kick many times in practice, and thought of it as “just like practice.” Pure jubilation. The other time I recall was in competitive curling, making an insane come-around raise takeout to score the eventual game-winning points in a critical Manitoba Curling Association major bonspiel game back in the ’90s. The trick there was we were in way over our heads, and we knew it. There was no pressure as we were a bunch of nobodies up against a seeded team that played in the provincials the year before.

But when I look back on the times where the outcome was actually qualifying for the provincials in men’s curling, my track record wasn’t the best. OK, it was lousy.

During one zone playdown, we were in the zone with Vic Peters and Howard Restall, two statesmen of provincial curling at the time in Manitoba. We knew we were in tough, but if we played well we had a shot.

As luck would have it, Peters forfeited from our scheduled game because his son qualified for the provincial juniors that same night, and he was their coach. As Homer Simpson once said, “the two sweetest words in the English language: De-fault, de-fault…”

So we won a few more games and faced Restall in the A-side final. We played our best game of the year and edged them in an extra end. It was a stunner.

We then faced Bob Sigurdson in the B final. His was also a strong squad, making many provincials over the years. I think we were in shock at the potential of qualifying for the provincials in that game, and we came out flat. We lost 9-1. We faced them again that night in the A-B- final for the provincial berth. I was unable to shut off that part of my brain that focused on the outcome and struggled mightily.

Scumbag brain: “Wow, if you miss this shot your team is hooped. Don’t miss.”

Normal Brain: “Hey, shut up, I’m trying to focus.”

SB: “Also, if you make this shot, you might actually make it to the provincials.”

NB: “NOT HELPING.”

As you might imagine, all of these annoying voices derailed my focus and we got clobbered again. That was as close as I came to playing in the show.

I have intense respect for those who can rise above the noise and deliver in the clutch.

sig