In each of their last two matches, Castel Rigone has had a player dismissed from the game for accumulating two yellow cards. Within the club philosophy of fair play, they certainly don’t shy from physical play. After 12 weeks, they are in 12th place, just inside the play-out zone. Video highlights for both games can be found at the end of this post.

Sunday, Nov. 10 saw a 1-0 loss to Ischia Isola Verde, a game in which Castel Rigone seems often to have been under siege. Castel Rigone would have equalized in added time, but Bianco’s freekick goal was disallowed, as three teammates were behind the Ischia defense and in an offside position at the time he struck the ball (whether they were ‘actively involved in play’ is an aspect of the offside rule that often invites argument; it currently states a player is offside if they are: “clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movement or challenging an opponent for the ball”).

Tranchitella’s first penalty

Saturday, Nov. 16 was a strange match — Castel Rigone dominated and should have won, but earned only a 0-0 draw because their striker, the joint top scorer in the league, Dario Tranchitella, missed two penalties. For a penalty given in the first half, Tranchitella initially scored, but the goal was called back because a teammate, fellow striker Marco Agostinelli, had entered the penalty area before the kick was taken (his timing was off —  Tranchitella had paused his run-up to the ball in order to induce the keeper commit to one side). On the re-kick, Tranchitella stuttered his run-up once again, but the keeper guessed correctly and blocked the ball, with Dario skying the rebound over the bar. Three chances at point-blank range, and no goals. This approached the performance of three penalties missed in one game, accomplished by Martin Palermo of Argentina in 1999). In the second half, Tranchitella’s penalty was simply poor — weak, and too close to the keeper. He looked like he was wary of missing again, rather than intent on scoring.

When fear taps a player on the shoulder, what happens to efficacy, and what role does ethics play?

Probably the most common phrase told by coaches to players here is: “gioca senza paura” (play without fear), which is far easier said than done. In order to play without fear, one might want to know what courage is. And for that, we might consult the Platonic dialogue Laches.

In the Laches (see Paul Woodruff’s fine summary here), Socrates is drawn into a discussion between two Athenians, Lysimachus and Melesias, about how to train their sons to grow up as virtuous (with ἀρετή, ‘arete‘), which in this context means strong and brave (with ἀνδρεία, ‘andreia‘, or ‘manly spirit’). The specific prompt in the dialogue is whether or not the boys ought to learn how to fight in armor. In other words, does one best develop the power of courage while being well-protected? Unsure what to do, the fathers engage two experienced generals: Nicias, a tragic leader of Athens’ Sicilian Expedition in 415-13 BC (he argues ‘yes’ to training in armor), and Laches, a more conservative general (who argues ‘no’).

Antonio Canova, Socrates saves Alcibiades in the Battle of Potidea (1797), Accademia Nazionale di San Luca (Rome)

These generals should be understood as ‘characters’ in the dialogue, representing opposing viewpoints. Nicias is more an ‘intellectual-general’, who relies upon knowledge and correct belief (‘episteme‘) and has a thinker’s approach to the question. Laches is more a ‘soldier-general’ whose core talent is ‘thumos‘ (sheer drive and endurance), and he has a psychological approach. As the generals do not agree with each other, they turn to Socrates, who has the reputation for being both a superb intellectual and a dauntless soldier. (Socrates showed bravery in Athenian actions at Potidaea in 432 BC and at Delium in 424 BC). Socrates, armed with rhetorical skill (‘techne‘), takes a philosophical approach to the problem of how to teach young persons.

Socrates shifts the focus of the discussion, away from whether or not boys should learn fighting in armor, to a more fundamental issue. If the purpose of education is to instill andreia — an aspect of virtue — then the precise nature of that virtue ought first be understood. Specifically, “…suppose that we first set about determining the nature of courage, and in the second place proceed to enquire how the young men may attain this quality by the help of studies and pursuits” (190; Jowett translation). So Socrates asks: “What is that common quality which is called courage, and which includes all the various uses of the term when applied both to pleasure and pain…?” (192).

Socrates asks: is a man who remains at his post to fight courageous? (191) Laches thinks so. But is such a stance brave even if it is foolish, and the man would be better off retreating to fight at a more advantageous opportunity? This is the problem with Laches’ second proposal, that courage is a “sort of endurance of the soul.” Being rash (foolish endurance) cannot be noble, and courage must be noble, they all agree. Is then perhaps courage “wise endurance” (192)? Nicias picks up the linkage of courage and wisdom, agreeing that “courage is the knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear” (196) and “courageous actions are wise actions” (197). Socrates, however, observes that fearfulness and hopefulness are things that can only be concerned with the future (not the past or present), and confining a universal definition of courage to one-third of temporal instances cannot yield a satisfactory definition. Moreover, any person having sufficient wisdom or perfect knowledge of what hopes or perils lay in the future, and could act correctly according to that understanding, might not be human at all, but more akin to an immortal. And gods cannot be courageous, because they know too much, and have nothing to lose. The argument is left in a bind, and finally Socrates admits: “we have not discovered what courage is” (199).

The Laches has long seemed an unsatisfactory dialogue because it does not given an ‘answer’ to the definitional question of courage. However, it is Socrates himself — with the intellectual, psychological, and physical experience of being courageous — who is the exemplum of courage, in both peace and war (in any situation, to satisfy a universal definition). Socrates persists in the practice of seeking the Good despite as clear an understanding of the obstacles and hazards involved as is humanly possible. Such persistence in fact leads to his own death for the sake of the truth. Is courage one of those things that is indefinable, but “you know it when you see it?”

What is the purpose of competition? Is it simply to ‘win’, to find out ‘who is best’, and to have pride in the conquest and reap its benefits? Or is it to develop virtues that are otherwise difficult or impossible to cultivate, such as courage? One can easily find literature on the subject, but it often focuses on tangible economic benefits (e.g., M. Stucke, “Is Competition Always Good?”) or has a Libertarian slant (competition is the “natural state of affairs” and a “universally good thing” “to get the things we want”: G.C. Leef). This autumn even saw a grant competition for assessing and measuring virtue.

When we encourage players or young persons “giocare senza paura,” how exactly do we expect them to do that, and how do we teach it or demonstrate it? If we truly want them to develop that capacity for brave play, don’t we have to be willing to let them fail, let them learn from failure, accept the consequences of failure, and fully support their next attempt, so that they are not petrified by the tyranny of outcomes?

Tranchitella says he is ready to keep taking penalties for Castel Rigone. Good for him.

Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 11 loss v. Ischia Isola Verde:

Official Lega Pro video highlights of the week 12 draw v. Gavorrano:

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Note: the title of this post is taken from the lyrics of Midlake’s “In This Camp” (2006).

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