Perhaps it really was Thomas Jefferson who first identified the causational link between hard work and good luck but I doubt that this is the case at all. The extraordinary sight of Emma Raducanu holding aloft the US Open trophy in Flushing Meadows on Saturday evening marked the culmination of a journey that started in Bromley some sixteen years ago. Emma is the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam. Her achievement is remarkable given that before the tournament commenced, she was ranked 333 and yet she has now won one of tennis’ most coveted prizes. Given that she was forced to retire from Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties, her triumph in America seems all the more dazzling.
At the time of Emma’s withdrawal from Wimbledon, she faced censure from a number of pompous middle-aged men who evidently considered themselves experts on such matters. Controversially, John McEnroe argued that ‘Emma’s a talented player but couldn’t handle the pressure and quit when she was losing badly’. Piers Morgan waded in on Twitter with the withering observation that this was not ‘brave, just a shame.’ Anybody old enough to have witnessed McEnroe’s epic tantrums on court will be familiar with his own questionable ability to handle pressure appropriately. At best the comments of both men were insensitive and unkind.
All of us suffer from anxiety at certain points in our lives. To do so in front of television cameras at Wimbledon seems entirely human and deserving of our understanding and yet Emma’s predicament attracted the opprobrium of many armchair critics. When Simone Biles withdrew from a number of events at the Olympics, she was chastised by some who considered her actions to be the selfish acts of a prima donna rather than a considered response to an unhealthy level of pressure. Some sneered about the ‘snowflake generation’ whilst others suggested she was letting her teammates down.
I hope that Emma’s triumphant resurgence will serve to inspire all those young people who have felt, or currently do feel, limited or defined by their anxiety. Human life is not immutable and our capacity to evolve should never be underestimated. Those of us who feel waves of anxiety on a regular basis know just how hard it can be to rationalise those feelings. My wife is emotionally calm and buoyed by a level of optimism that can appear baffling to a natural worrier like me. She is usually right in her assessment of situations and, thankfully, her optimism and fundamental belief that everything really will be alright is usually well placed. Her mindset is different to mine and no amount of breathing exercises, yogic flying or hours with a counsellor will change the fact that I tend to worry about pretty much everything. That is not necessarily a bad trait given that I am charged with the responsibility of looking after 800 children and over 250 members of staff. I mean you would not really want me to be cavalier about the whole thing! A swashbuckling maverick prone to taking extreme risks is great fun in fiction but can be devastatingly ineffective in real life.
‘Resilience’ was a word that went out of vogue some years ago and those who highlighted the importance of developing resilience were often deemed to give too little consideration to the fragility and vulnerability that results from living with mental health issues. For generations, independent schools were the preserve of the ‘stiff upper lip’ and the rather dismal concept often referred to as ‘muscular Christianity’. Schools such as Rossall were, ostensibly, preparing young people for military or colonial service. Toughness was celebrated whilst sensitivity was frowned upon as a sign of weakness.
We now recognise that we need to teach young people that experiencing anxiety does not mean that you lack resilience or courage nor does it mean that, necessarily, you will feel anxious about a given situation for all eternity. There are plenty of strategies that we can utilise to reduce the negative impact of our anxieties but experiencing anxiety on an emotional and or physiological level is an inevitable aspect of being alive. For some of us, the impact of such feelings will be challenging and even crippling at times. However, Emma demonstrated with splendid assurance that experiencing anxiety should not be viewed as a barrier to future success. In doing so, she proved her detractors wrong with the most splendidly virtuoso display of athletic excellence.
On a personal level, I think that I used to believe that it was necessary for me to keep my anxieties entirely concealed for fear of being perceived to be weak or incapable of strong leadership. However, over time, I have come to accept that being your authentic self and embracing one’s fears provides an example that is both real and relatable. Finding the courage to lead is not contingent upon maintaining an impervious countenance. Rather, it is dependent upon compassion, empathy and an ability to understand and respond to the hopes and fears of all within a community. Self knowledge is the starting point of such understanding and our children need role models who do not pretend to be perfect or immune from feeling pressure. Resilience emerges from embracing our fears rather than rejecting or concealing those feelings that we find potentially troubling. Experiencing anxiety does not feel like a weakness nor is it something for which I feel at all ashamed. It is an essential part of my being and without those emotions, I would perhaps not possess the same level of focus and determination.
This week has been full of sporting triumphs. Special mention should go to Bailey Scarborough who swam the length of Lake Coniston in 1 hour 54 minutes and 56 seconds. This is a remarkable achievement and Bailey was the fastest competitor in his age group and placed second overall. He told me that he intends to break the record for the fastest swim over the five mile course next summer and I do not doubt that he will do so.
Congratulations to those of our students who represented Lancashire Schoolgirls in the U16 National Counties Final on Sunday afternoon. The match was viewable live on YouTube and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to see the girls in action against Middlesex. Lancashire won 3-0 to become national champions for 2021. Grace Pilling was incredible in goal and Emma Siddall was declared player of the match. Finally congratulations to Seb Cave who finished runner up in the England Golf ‘Champion of Champions Championship at Woodhall Spa Golf Club.
The great treat of this week was the arrival of our Steinway pianos and it is fantastic that all of our musicians will now have world class instruments upon which to practice. The launch of the International Piano Academy has been an overwhelming success and we look forward to sharing their performances with you in due course. For more information about our Piano Academy please visit About the International Piano Academy
It says much about the extraordinary diversity to be found in Rossall that our pupils excel in so many different fields. Those looking for a good independent school have a number to choose from if that is all they are looking for. Those with dreams will look towards Rossall for Rossall is much more than just a school; it is a way of life that inspires young people to become the best possible versions of themselves. It is a community that draws in parents, teachers, pupils and Old Rossallians and it provides all of us with the opportunity to belong to something that is quite extraordinary in terms of its traditions, values, ethos and ambition.