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The Beautiful Game: The Art of Ship Handling

Grant Livingstone
Total Views: 7918
November 30, 2020

By Captain Grant Livingstone

‘The Beautiful Game’ is a term often associated with Argentine football legend Diego Maradona and Brazilian great Edson Arantes Do Nascimento; “Pele.” Why do more than 3.5 billion fans worldwide call football “The Beautiful Game”?

Much debate about where the term ‘Beautiful Game’ came from. But it came to life in Pele’s artistic execution of the game. Pele (and Maradona) on the pitch in the heat of the battle were as much a fan of the game as those in the stadium cheering them on.

“The simple truth is I love the game and that love has never failed. In life as in football, nothing is certain. The pleasure of excelling, of really being the best. If you can find that and it makes you happy, it will fulfill you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if there are 60,000 people watching or none at all.” -Pele


Football is played from the heart and passion is the fuel. Passion is fundamental to the game, player, or fan. So, if fans love the game why aren’t we all Pele on the pitch? Because, of course, it isn’t only passion. It’s science, aptitude, mentoring, application, dedication and time.

Pele about joining his first professional team in Santos; “There was no moment when things started to turn around for me. There was no epiphany or great triumph. Instead, I just kept training. Kept doing my drills. Kept focusing on soccer.”

That is very good news for those of us who are not Pele. One of the core attributes making football The Beautiful Game was its accessibility to the average person. No matter your social economic status, education or physical prowess. Marry passion with technical knowledge, hard work, mentoring/coaching and the average person can tap into the art of football.

We may not become Pele but we can certainly become far better than when we began. Passion is what raises the science of football to an art form. Art subsumes the science, not the other way around.


The trouble is, art is an intangible which is difficult to define. There is remarkable research being accomplished in neuroscience regarding creativity and the human brain.

The study of ‘left brain right brain’ is now viewed as an incomplete understanding of the complex functioning of the human brain. That ‘Grey Matter’, the outer part of the human brain, is in a complex intimate relationship with ‘White Matter’, the inner and larger central part of the brain. That White Matter sends waves of chemical and electrical signals flowing over and through Grey Matter.

Orchestrating past experience, motor skills and cognitive deduction. Passion and curiosity are the accelerants, experience the data input. Through the breathtaking assimilation of experience and passion, the human brain transforms execution into a higher form of consciousness. The evolution of Art from Science, science into art. That is how Pele and Maradona turned a game into an art form. Remove passion and football is no longer the beautiful game.


When with good intention the teaching focus is solely on formulas and techniques, we turn a potential art form into paint by numbers. We teach step by step executions. The more complex the subject, the greater that focus. While adequate for acquiring basic competency, it often falls short of reaching the highest level of execution possible.

The latest research in neuroscience, particularly with professional athletes, can be a game-changer for professional shiphandlers as well. If we try to distill ship handling into technical knowledge only, we limit the potential of every shiphandler. The rebuttal is ship handling is technical knowledge; hydrodynamics, coefficients of form, environmental forces, force applied, etc. As in football, ship handling is revealed in its execution. Not just technical knowledge, but execution and practical knowledge. The very best shiphandler’s understand and endorse the science of ship handling, but nearly always talk about the ‘feel’. The intangible that incorporates the remarkable functioning of the human brain assimilating and orchestrating past experience, developed motor skills and cognitive deduction into artistic execution fueled by passion and determination. The very good news is that someone with remedial ship handling aptitude can, with determination, training and time, become a remarkably improved shiphandler. But that is unlikely to happen without passion.

One of the very best shiphandlers I have ever known always told us he was not a “natural” shiphandler and began his piloting career inauspiciously. But he was passionate about ship handling, nearly fanatical. By the end of his career, his ship handling had become artistic.


In the case of ship handling, artistic execution isn’t merely for show. In the real world of moving ships, artistic maneuvers elevate safe maneuvering to the highest levels possible. I cannot find any recent book or research on ship handling that gives the Art of Ship Handling even a cursory nod. A century ago professional mariners, masters and pilots often talked of ‘the feel of the ship’.

They were describing the art, not the science. The very latest research in neuroscience supports the old sailors’ adage, ‘a feel for ship handling, a feel for the ship.’ If ship handling is taught with a focus exclusively on technical knowledge we displace the ‘feel’, the ‘art’. We unintentionally limit the ship handling student’s potential and that might have grievous future results. The human brian is what turns science into art. With certain aptitude and mentoring, a passion for ship handling may eventually evolve into artistic execution; Pele on the pitch. Without passion ship handling devolves into mediocrity, which is a shortcut to potential accidents over a long career.

The art of ship handling is not an antiquated idea, it is essential for advanced ship handling. The Sceince should not be separated from the Art. Neither is complete without the other. Through the astounding human brain the two become one. The art subsuming the science in waves of chemical and electrical communion.

“The simple truth is I love the game and that love has never failed. The pleasure of excelling, of really being the best. If you can find that and it makes you happy, it will fulfill you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if there are 60,000 people watching or none at all” -Pele

The Art of Ship Handling is The Beautiful Game


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