Winning At All Costs, by Paul Gogarty & Ian Williamson

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The Independent Culture

"I blame the parents" goes the cliché, and in their exploration of what psychological forces make great sporting heroes great, the authors – a journalist and a children's analyst – seem to agree. The core of their book is the proposition that a desire to please their mother and vanquish rivals for her affections, be it father, siblings or others, is what drives most sportsmen on; their sporting opponents are surrogate foes (for women, substitute father for mother).

So far so Oedipal, but the theory is argued convincingly, with plenty of case histories: the young Jonny Wilkinson's mum used to sit waiting in her car for seven hours or more as he practised his kicks, which Gogarty and Williamson construe as his way of keeping her close and under his control. This thesis also explains why many sportsmen find it hard to quit – Muhammad Ali, Diego Maradona and Michael Jordan are cited – because when they do they have no surrogate rivals left to do battle with.

This is not an easy read but it's an interesting slant on the sporting psyche. Be careful who you call a mummy's boy, though.

Published in hardback by JR Books, £16.99

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