The Secret Ingredient

I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘confidence’ over the last while ~ really since this bag was given to me and became the bag for my swimming gear.

Confidence 2

Every time I look at it, and that’s about ten times a day, I ponder more and more about the relationship between confidence and money.

I would like to believe that confidence has nothing to do with money but I simply can’t and it’s all because of a little boy with immense talent for tennis from a very poor area whom I sort of ‘adopted’ many years ago.

I got to know him when he was about seven. He had beautiful blue eyes and a head of tousled blonde curls. He was waif-like but his hand-eye co-ordination was amazing and he was incredibly speedy around the court.

I knew that he had oodles more ability than the vast majority of kids his age but was also aware that his background was going to militate against him when it came to competing in tournaments.

He came on in leaps and bounds with practice and loved the racket that had once belonged to my brother.

Every time I look at the ‘confidence’ bag, I think of the day I brought him to a tournament in Dublin to give him a run against some of tennis kids of his age.


Before he even got to the court, I could see that he was intimidated by the posh surroundings and the cliques of players who were dressed in great style. He played his little heart out and lost about  6-2 6-3 to a highly ranked player.

The awful part was that no one talked to him or made him feel remotely at home. In fact, he felt so totally uncomfortable and overwhelmed  that he said he couldn’t face playing in any more tournaments like that one.

He was one of  many highly talented kids I’ve known who fell by the tennis wayside. Perhaps, I was overly innocent in thinking that he could overcome the obstacles and grind his way through, even though was like a fish out of water.

Or perhaps, he was was just too sensitive and wasn’t able to ‘Act as if it were impossible to fail,’ as Dorothea Brande suggests.

I often wonder what became of him and hope against hope that he remembers those childhood tennising years with a sense of happiness and that he learned lessons from them that enabled him to realise his potential in life.

What do YOU think about confidence and its relationship to socio-economic circumstances? 



Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

30 thoughts on “The Secret Ingredient”

  1. What comes to my mind Jean is the difference between the old country and the USA. All the hyper positivity here in the States is actually so empowering for young people to try. Yes – everyone gets a prize … and in so doing, they believe they can achieve anything. What is lacking is a realistic re-set button for their adult stage of their life. … but that’s an other story!
    Shame on old fashioned and outdated social expectations and rules.
    And yes – I think its ok to swear at Wimbledon as long as you don’t do any potential harm to others.

    1. Hi Val, it’s very interesting that you see such a difference between the two countries. Things have moved on here in Ireland re tennis BUT there parents still have to pour a lot of money into a talented kid if he/she is going to compete at a high level.
      We also have the need for the re-set button here as the ‘everybody wins’ approach is to the fore in the early years.

      As for swearing, I’m not in favour at Wimbledon or in indeed anywhere else. (Old-fashioned?)

  2. Hi Jean

    It is sad to think that confidence might be related to money isnt’t it and I feel for the little boy and yourself. But I do think that the class and financial divide is still very alive and doing well. I have experienced what it means not to have the right background or connections but after years of hard work and proving I could the a good job, life has worked out well.

    I wonder if it has something to do with people trying to connect to their ‘tribe’. I say this because, at a couple of my son’s school events, I watched women who barely said hello to me, lock onto each other, when they found that they similar backgrounds ie going to a private school when they were young.

    I hope also that the boy you helped was able to put the negative experiences into context with the warm and generous spirit you were able to show him.


    1. Olga, good to hear from you.
      I suspect you are right about the tribal aspect and certainly a concern among the well-heeled that they not be ‘contaminated’ by what they perceive as ‘lesser mortals.’

  3. Well, would you doubt the tennis glitterati for excluding someone who they deem to be from wrong side of the tracks – “tuppence h’a’penny looking down on tuppence”. Ireland is full of snobbery and at its heart is an inferiority complex and a lack of rounded intelligence and awareness. Also, it is a denial of justice to our fellow man – those who are lucky enough to be born with the talents and audacity that allow them earn lots of money have an obligation to bring along everybody else with them to a greater or lesser degree.
    Of course that won’t do because we need someone lesser than us to look down our nose at them and so bolster our feeble sense of superiority. It’s pathetic.
    I always thought the German sociologist Max Weber’s argument that the status gained through membership of clubs, alliances etc., – “party” was the concept he used – could overcome social class distinction was a weak argument.

    1. Hi John, I agree that Ireland is full of snobbery but I don’t think we’re on our own in that, do you?
      I think Max Weber’s emphasis on education as a means to rise up the social ladder was more to the point than his talk about ”party.’ However, the educational route isn’t necessarily that easy in societies are as fundamentally unequal as ours.

      Do you think that people are born with ‘audacity?’ I’d have thought that was more of a nurture than natural thing.

      1. I do agree we are not on our own, Jean, far from it. I hark back to halcyon days of innocence when Ireland was a country that in lots of way followed a Christian ethos towards its neighbour. Indeed, in a local and global way; whether it was the chat over the wall or the missionaries going abroad.
        Audacity is innate and is nurtured, I believe.
        Check out Michael Sandel’s episode on the political philosopher John Rawls here:

        I must revise good old Max Weber!

  4. I know there’s an economic divide with some sports more than others – like golf – but I wonder sometimes if the snobbery is just an urban/rural divide, too. I come from the West of Ireland and am very much at home in Dublin which has become a place I love, but before I moved here, I found large groups of Dubliners very intimidating and closed. I don’t think it had anything to do with my economic background, more of a disinclination to meet new people when surrounded by so many of their own friends. I think those of us from smaller places can be more open and friendly simply because we have to learn to be.

    1. Tara, I agree that the urban/rural divide is pretty important in Ireland and I’ve certainly been struck in the tennis world how much more egalitarian tennis seems to be in smaller towns/villages than in the Dublin. However, there are still huge financial issues at play when it comes to trying to compete at a high level when living in the country as there is generally a huge amount of travel required to places like Dublin for training and those costs have to be met by parents. So, clearly this rules out a substantial percentage of the talented kids.

  5. I think confidence runs with intimidation because we think we’re not able to meet the standards that are set by the actiions of others. It is through failure that we rise above and keep grinding away until we are able to conquer our fears, that confidence is finally realized. We are constantly being judged by others in what we have, what we wear, how we speak that breeds intimidation. I think it runs the gammit of the social classes..we always have to prove ourselves be it at school, work, play. I too hope that young boy finally realized that everyone is good at something and be proud of ones accomplishments.

    1. Joni, that’s an interesting point about confidence and intimidation. I suspect you’re right about it running through all social classes. I wonder though about the ability of people from poor socio-economic groups to break through the intimidation and climb to the top. Maybe this comes back to the matter of ‘audacity’ raised by John above?

  6. I think things are changing a great deal since the UK education system has “opened up” to a greater diversity of students. Also, these days universities offer students a great deal of help in adjusting to uni life in many areas, aiming at a “level playing field”. I know when I went to poly I don’t recall such valuable resources.

    I think it depends also on the individual. Some people will ask for help and other won’t. Even so, the experience of higher educations will have long-term effects on the individual, their family and society.

    Also, before kids get to that stage, although I think kids are under a lot of pressure these days, on the plus side there is a lot more work going in in schools to show them what they are capable at and what they should be reaching towards.

    It is a complicated issue really with many factors affecting the individual. As a sociologist, Jean, you will know more about it.

    1. Angie, I agree that there have been significant developments in opening up the educational system and a higher percentage of people from poorer backgrounds are not making it to third level compared to a few decades ago. But the divide is still very much alive and well in Ireland, anyway, even in terms of access to education.

  7. I would love to believe that one has nothing to do with the other but that would be either ignorance or naivete. Your story is moving, Jean, and I’m hoping along with you that he does remember you and those youthful tennis years and did learn enough to overcome any adult obstacles. Even where we live now there is an economic divide with many noses in the air. I can see how it would be easy to let intimidation stop others from pursuing sports, etc. People are people and money doesn’t make people any better than anyone else but some seem to think it does. I’m unsure if this issue will every disappear and it’s very sad…

    1. Lauren, thanks for writing. I tend to be rather pessimistic about it disappearing too but hope that more and more people will manage to scramble through and be role models for younger generations.
      Yes, I hope the little guy has good memories, at the very least! He certainly left a lasting impression on me.

  8. I love your bag!! And you bring up a very valid point. When I was young I so badly wanted to play tennis but it wasn’t within our income. Luckily, as an adult I was able to learn and I continue to have a deep love for the sport. But it is clearly, still, a rather elitist sport which eliminates much of the population…sadly. Thanks for the food for thought you post provoked. I am happy I landed here! 🙂

      1. Thank you! I think my “judgment” on that probably stems from the Country Club brand of tennis as opposed to a public court in the park brand. As a member of heart of the latter I see major differences now that I am relegated to play on soft surfaces only i.e. private clubs. How that stacks up to other sports, I’m not sure…it’s just my personal experience with tennis 😉 Have a super day!

        1. Lorrie, it’s fascinating that you have experience of both aspects of the tennis scene there. I have been involved in both here in Ireland and there is certainly a huge difference between the two.
          Hope you’re enjoying Wimbledon!

          1. I AM enjoying Wimbledon 🙂 and I am very grateful to the experiences I have had in the tennis world…it is a super sport and I’ve met wonderful people through the years. I’m happy you have been able to experience both as well 😉 I hope my Roger can win!!

            1. Ah! I was traveling and did not get to see him live…but fell asleep watching last night…Bravo!!! I am with you…and I really believe he can do it!!!! 🙂

  9. I think a privileged background does help with confidence. As a working class kid, I absorbed that you should know your place, not get above yourself and it wasn’t good to blow your own trumpet. I found it difficult to be comfortable in some situations because of that, whereas, some of my wealthier friends didn’t seem to have this issue, so I think there is definitely a point there about wealth helping you to be confident of your place in the world.

    1. Andrea, thanks very much for sharing your insights from your experience.
      I agree that wealth has a significant part to play in helping people to be confident. Clearly, it’s not everything but it seems to be high up on the list.

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