Wisdom of Le Tissier

I read today that procrastination is somewhat dependent on our units of time: if we think of time in terms of days, rather than months or years, we tend to get on with stuff more readily: deadlines seem a bit closer.

I say somewhat dependent, because procrastination is also a moral choice.

I was remembering today the inestimable Matt Le Tissier, one of the great footballing idlers. Le Tissier was gifted with extraordinary talent. Spain and Barcelona midfielder Xavi cited him as one of his earliest inspirations, saying in his autobiography “his talent was simply out of the norm. He could dribble past seven or eight players but without speed – he just walked past them. For me he was sensational”.

However, Le Tissier made only a handful of ineffectual appearances for the national team, in part because of his perceived reputation for laziness. I recall his explaining that it was no use a player like him huffing and puffing his way from one end of the pitch to the other; if he had a bit of a stroll in the middle of the park he would be sure, sooner or later, to spot opportunities that other, busier (by implication, stupider) players would miss.

This, I like to think, is how my mind works, only without the talent. The busy mind is by definition a distracted mind. It may feel like focus – let’s face it, it is focus – but focus is a form of blinkering. Much better to unshackle the mind, I always think, let it graze at liberty. By which I mean, not fixate on the boring stuff.

I wish I could convince my students that long ruminative silences were an essential pedagogic tool, but alas, various social, not to say professional, mores interpose. It might be easier, I suppose, if I were capable of emerging from such silences with Le Tissier-like brilliancies and mental pirouettes, but I know from experience that my mental pirouettes rarely come off, and that my brilliances look better from the inside of my head.

Which brings me, finally, to procrastination. Because Le Tissier excelled also here. Common footballing wisdom dictates that, in taking a penalty, you should choose a spot to aim for and not change your mind. Le Tissier freely acknowledges that he did change his mind, frequently, in the last half-a-stride of his run-up. It was essential, he said, to keep a bit of mental flexibility. And in the course of his career, he scored 47 penalties out of 48 taken.