Saturday, 11 August 2012

Competitiveness in Sport


Competitiveness in Sport (in more than 140 characters) (this guest blog is because twitter was'nt enough) 

This is my first ever blog post and I'm a little nervous, admittedly. I'm known for having opinions (who doesn't have opinions?), but not known for sharing them freely online. But after a few tweets in reply to @puffles2010 on the subject of competitiveness in sport in school, I was asked by @Jules_Clarke if I wanted to guest blog on the subject here. I'm interested in this issue because I have so often heard the opinion that kids are missing out by being denied competition in PE and Games, and like many didn't have a great experience of PE and Games when at school. Firstly, I want to get explain that I have no idea if it is the case that competition in sport has declined in schools. I've seen arguments claiming this is the case, and I've also seen counter arguments suggesting there is some myth to this, but this isn't the debate I'm interested in; more the merits or other of competitiveness on the sports field.

The Olympics has rightly highlighted this as an issue. As I type, Team GB has won 26 Gold medals, with one day left of events still to come before our attention turns to the Paralympics. As with a majority of people, I have been glued to the BBC's Olympic coverage, and have been amazed at the successes of our sportsmen and women. Such success has come from self-belief, determination and sheer hard work, in partnership with the support and funding they have been able to receive. In some cases there have been hardships along the way, which makes such achievements all the more amazing. Without competition, there is no doubt that these Olympians would not be able to succeed. But does this mean it's a good thing for everyone?

I left sixth form in the early-mid 90s. Throughout my time at high school, I found it almost impossible to be involved in sport. It's true that I didn't have much of an inclination that way, and I was largely content that there were other subjects which worked better for me. I still remember that overwhelming sense of fear I had immediately before games lessons. I am no Alpha Male, and so to me the whole system seemed designed to humiliate anyone without any sporting prowess. I do however remember being occasionally interested in the idea of running. I wasn't any good at it, but given the right set of circumstances, I would have been interested in trying. The problem was that any running we did involved a race, and potentially further humiliation because I was able to run, but not able to compete. There was no place for me in this system to enjoy a sport for its own sake. Consequently, like many of the less-sporty types, any such interest was short-lived. We knew the script: the same boys always won the race/scored the goals/got the glory. Looking back on that time, I now realise that there wasn't really much competition for the race winners anyway. If a good percentage of the boys already felt defeated before they had pulled on their shorts, then this surely meant that the more sporty boys would be even more likely to be winners and not ever experience much of a challenge.

During these twitter exchanges, I started to wonder how one might apply such a competitive ability in the real world. We are clearly surrounded by competition in many walks of life, but are these experiences the same as a race? I posted a tweet saying that I couldn't easily think of examples where the kind of competition you might experience in a race is played out in the real world. It was suggested to me that getting a job is competitive, which is very true, but it's not the same as a race. In a race, you are competing directly with known opponents. You can clearly see where you and your opponents are while progressing. Over time, you can get to learn your opponents' strengths and weaknesses. In an interview, you wouldn't have any relationship with, or knowledge of, your competitors, and so all you can do is be as good as you can be in order to impress the interviewer. The prize is the job, but you're not competing directly with anyone. In other words, it would be like several people running in the same race, but on their own. If there had been such a race at school, i.e. if I had been able to just go for a run and enjoy the experience, the barrier of humiliation and pressure of knowing I couldn't realistically compete with the top guys, wouldn't be there. I may have become quite good at it.

Later in life, I shocked myself. Clearly I was no good at sport, but I developed an interest in getting fit. I started to run. On my own. And I ran.. and ran some more. Before I knew it, I found I actually enjoyed it. The interest I have in running has a lot to do with the escape it gives me; I can leave the pressures of the real world behind. The fact I don't have to compete with anyone means I actually want to do it. I'll confess that I do struggle to stick with it, but that's largely because I am also quite lazy..

It is true that there are a great deal of very competitive jobs out there. I work in the creative industries, and creative environments can often encourage competition. Sales jobs also demand this. But most jobs don't seem to require direct competition; rather cooperation in order that the company itself can compete. Sure, it's important to have aspiration, but companies which require staff to be divided into winners and losers are only going to attract people who fit those personality types, and end up excluding anyone with other skills to offer. The irony with relation to my industry is that the majority of highly creative people are actually quite introverted people who don't thrive on direct competition. Instead, if they are allowed the space and time to use their imagination without the distraction of competition, then they're more likely to come up with the goods.

So, back to school sports day.. does the egg and spoon race provide essential life skills? I do believe children should experience direct competition to some extent; competition is no bad thing in itself. If someone excels at sport, they clearly need competition if they are serious about taking it further. The same applies to any subject in school. If you're a great musician/writer/artist, then you should be encouraged to develop, but that approach shouldn't be at the expense of allowing other pupils good experiences of those subjects. I don't remember competing with other students in art classes; I was graded against the curriculum.

So I don't think it's fair to implement a blanket, default approach; especially if that approach is likely to alienate many people and turn them away from sport and exercise. The numerous other benefits of exercise (health, well-being, reduced NHS costs etc..) are far too important to allow the championing of a single approach to sport. Emphasis on taking part in sport is, I think, extremely important in a nation where exercise is very much lacking in most of our day-to-day activities. I believe dividing people into winners and losers can for some people be useful, but for many can be as restricting as 140 characters sometimes is to me.

via mark. @labourbirstall 

Jules - you can ask for inclusion on this blog any time. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I'm still undecided. It might be better if we look at competitiveness as being about success, rather than just winning. Understanding success and failure is very important. Everyone should be encouraged to strive for success in something - be it a particular sport, an academic subject, a craft skill or whatever - but that also means failing in other things. What does concern me is the emphasis, I've seen for myself, in avoiding failure and the idea that "you've all won".

    There was an interesting article on parenting in the New York Times: