We have often heard the terms ‘right time, right place’ and ‘timing is everything in life,’ but do we ever take the time to sit and reflect on these sayings, or do we just not have the time, or simply cannot be bothered to make the time?

Time, is the one common commodity we have all been blessed it and with which we all seem to wrestle, more often than not hopelessly. Few among us appear to sail smoothly along, like ducks in a pond, very calmly on the surface, everything falling neatly into place with time to spare. What we don’t see of the masters of time is their detailed planning and their rigid discipline of unwavering stick-to-it-iveness to the various steps in their plans, or, as in the case of the ducks, the furious paddling of their webbed feet beneath the surface.

So what really is timing? Can it be mastered? What’s the secret here? Coincidence? Luck? Timing is a word that one hears constantly during sports telecasts, particularly lawn tennis and cricket. The commentator is either lamenting the fact that “Federer’s timing is off today” as the ball bounces just outside the line of the tennis court, or raving over “another exquisitely timed shot off of Blackwood’s bat,” as the fielder at cover just turns his head to admire the resulting boundary.

In the field of sports, timing is one of the key separators of the elite from above average performers. This elusive element is quite noticeable in ball sports, especially racquet sports such as squash or tennis, golf, soccer and cricket, where the action of striking a ball presents a vivid example. The best of the best seem to have total control over the speed of their striking of the ball and can do it at the perfect moment to achieve the maximum return for their apparent casual looking effort. With constantly recurring accuracy, the ball seems to explode off their bats, racquets, hands or feet at the precise moment of contact, at the perfect trajectory and go exactly where the striker of the ball intended it to be placed, much to the chagrin of their opponents and the delight of the spectators.

In the rigours of day-to-day life, why is it that we find it difficult to know when the perfect time is for performing an activity to achieve the desired result? In the movies, the actors appear to have captured the personas of the characters perfectly throughout the films, yet we often forget that some scenes are shot several times before the director is completely happy with the take. Unfortunately, life is not lived in a studio, and we, more often than we would like, have only one shot at the execution of our actions for which we seek maximum returns.

Elite athletes, blessed with the gift of perfect timing on the field, are quite often cursed with their choice of timing of when they leave the arena. The world of boxing is littered with great champions who refused to accept that their common nemesis, Father Time, had arrived. The disturbing image of Muhammad Ali seated completely exhausted on a corner stool in December, 1981 during his last fight with Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas, as his legion of beloved fans wondered why he had ignored his doctor’s advice to quit after the third Ali-Frazier battle in 1975, is but one example.  Usain Bolt waved off former Olympic sprint champion Michael Johnson’s advice of retiring on top of the world after the 2016 Rio Olympics, and now has to live with the fact that his last competitive image is one of collapsing on the track in London at this year’s IAAF World Championships.

In the world of politics, timing is like fire, an excellent servant and a terrible master. Thirty years ago, freedom fighter cum political leader, Robert Mugabe changed Zimbabwe’s constitution to make himself president for life. In a recent move to pave the way for the transfer of power to his decades’ younger wife, Grace, he fired his vice-president and former fellow freedom fighter, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The nonagenarian’s timing could not have been worse, as the resulting snowball effect found him being forced out of power by his own party, his president for life status notwithstanding.

Can one achieve perfect timing, and if so, how? Is it a science that can be learnt or an art form that can be acquired? No doubt the puzzle of timing can be mastered with the adoption of heavy personal discipline and lots of practice ‒ repetition, repetition, repetition. Perfection? Perfect timing, all the time? Nay, impossible. Murphy’s laws would see to that when one least expects it.

Just ask Steve Davis the former professional snooker player who won the world snooker championship six times and was ranked number one in the world for seven consecutive years. In the 1985 world championship, seeking his third consecutive title, he lost an 8-0 lead in the best of a thirty-five frame final to Dennis Taylor.

With the score tied at 17-17, it came down to the final black ball for a winner-takes-it-all. After a series of safety shots and missed pots, Davis over-cut the black ball leaving Taylor with a relatively easy pot for the crown, as a record 18.5 million British television viewers watched in total disbelief.

It was after midnight, Davis, the player to record the first officially recognized televised perfect break of 147, had faltered. His timing was off.