Winning is everything! – Part II

natasha_medalIn the previous edition of the Column dated Friday 23 August 2013 we addressed some of the critical issues that reflect the attitude of winning being everything.
In sport as in life the loser is denigrated by most of society. He/she finds immense difficulty getting the support of others. At times this lack of support extends to the family and people once considered friends, through to coaches and administrators.
In this week’s Column, we examine some of the consequences of adoption of this attitude, Winning Is Everything.
It has often been argued that the coach is forced to adopt numerous roles in the business of sport. The coach is often surrogate father, mother, brother or sister.
The coach is often the friend and confidante of many an athlete.
The coach is often the only means of support an athlete receives even if the latter has parents.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, several of those who take to sport come from homes with only a single parent, a mother, more often than not, who finds immense difficulty making ends meet.
In many instances the coaches befriend the athletes in their charge, with good intentions. However, because not all of our coaches have an understanding of psychology and the emotional needs of the athletes this friendship often gets distorted to the detriment of the athletes involved.
It is also unfortunate that too many coaches tend to strive after virtual ownership of the athlete in the course of training, especially where the athlete shows some talent and the potential to succeed. It is at this point that we get the coaches speaking emotionally about my athlete.
Some coaches take this ownership to the extreme by also befriending the parent(s) of the athletes with the potential. Some coaches play the role of the absent father by providing the financial support to the lone parent who, in return for the support, readily delivers the child/athlete to the possession of the coach. They are also very quick to provide whatever medical support is needed should injury of any sort intervene to stop the training process.
Very often the coach convinces the athlete that only he/she can train him/her to the point of success and facilitate scholarships or national representation.
It is not that the coaches does not mean well. He/she often does. The problem is that unwittingly, the claim of ownership is often designed to allow the athlete to have complete confidence in that coach alone. The relationship becomes one of emotional attachment that is often linked to performance.
There comes a time therefore where the success desired by the coach is inextricably linked to the performance of the athlete. When this happens the athlete is pushed to extremes that may not necessarily be in his/her best physiological interest. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the coach often does not see what he/she is doing in this regard and so the athlete is over-extended physically and emotionally.
Unfortunately, in such instances the athlete is not made to understand his her performance but instead feels compelled to please the coach for whom winning is everything. This is the reason why very often athletes are the objects of some very harsh treatment from coaches who convince them that it is all in their own best interest.
Too many coaches literally bark after the athletes in their charge.
They literally threaten the athletes with loss of the financial and material support that is given to him/her and the parent. They are also threatened with being cut off the coaching lifeline. The athletes’ fear of losing so much at once and the emotional trauma that may result combine to leave them evermore eager to display loyalty at all cost to the coaches with whom they are involved, unwittingly leaving them at the mercy of the latter.
So it is therefore that the athletes strive after success literally at all cost, even at times to their detriment.
Money! Money!
The impact of money on sport has been tremendous.
In some of our islands the desire to receive money from coaches as a means of continued support leads many an athlete to engage in training well beyond their physiological and psychological development, resulting in early burnout and in some cases an abhorrence for sport later in life.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines there are numerous examples of former athletes who now have nothing to do with the sport with which they were initially involved.
The motivation was wrong. It was the desire to continue to receive the finances that they needed to survive and to help their families survive. To these athletes it seemed a small price to pay for the benefits they received.
Professionalism has its merits and demerits.
Becoming a professional athlete places a tremendous responsibility on the athlete as well as on the coach involved.
The professional athlete wants to win because winning facilitates his/her income that in turn facilitates living.
In the world of sport today, virtually in every sport, the professional athlete understands the importance of winning at all cost.
Losing means a significant difference in one’s income-earning capacity in the years ahead. This, more than anything else drives the athlete to extremes.
Our drive towards a materialist society has meant that professional athletes like professionals in any other field of endeavour; desire to showcase their attainment of the good life. They too wish to procure a good house, car, family, access to high-style entertainment and other perks associated with these. In pursuit of these they must continue their winning ways.
The old adage, money makes the world go round, often, and unfortunately so, translates into money makes the world go wrong.
The gruesome stories we so often read about involving professional athlete leaves a bitter taste but they are real and reflect the loss of control experienced by so many who we believe should have been satisfied that they were able to attain so much in their careers. Unfortunately much was missing.
It would appear that for many of our professional athletes while winning remains their primary focus the money does not seem to satisfy their real needs.
Drugs – a viable option?
The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) formerly the International Amateur Athletics Federation, formed in 1912, was the first international sports federation to introduce drug testing. It did so in 1928, a mere 16 years after having been established.
The establishment of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) came on 10 November 1999. It followed the World Conference on Doping in Sport convened by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, in February of the same year.
Evidence suggests that Greek sporting history reveals cases of athletes using substances to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents when participating in sport. This was the earliest known attempt by athletes to win at all costs because of their perception, winning is everything.
Today, despite the significant improvements in drug testing methodologies, the evidence is there to support the claim that athletes are today using performance-enhancing substances in one form or another to win, because winning is everything.
In the sports of shooting and archery respectively it has been discovered that athletes use marijuana to calm their nerves in order to achieve better performances, to win.
One look at the athletes in virtually all of the professional sports played in the USA and one is hard pressed not to feel pained at what one observes.
It is near impossible for some athletes to attain the performances they deliver so very often using natural means of physical/physiological development.
It is not surprising that over the past several years we have had the confessions of several professional Baseball players. This came after there was a sudden, significant increase in the number of players hitting home runs and outstanding pitching.
Today some of the biggest names in the sport of Baseball have been caught up in the web of the use performance-enhancing substances merely to be successful, to win. The cost is immaterial because simply put, winning is everything.
For many years, people around the world, in and out of sport, idolised Lance Armstrong only to find out finally that he had the most sophisticated performance-enhancing regimen known in the sport of Cycling. Lance was included in a very long list of cyclists who have been found out in this sport and seems not to be the last.
In Athletics, this year’s edition of the World Championships was perhaps the worst in so far as athletes testing positive in advance of the event thereby debarring them from participating in the competition. Not at all surprising.
We have heard challenges in respect of Tennis.
We know of doping issues in Swimming and in Soccer.
Is it too far-fetched to suggest that we can expect to hear of doping in US professional Football, Basket and world Golf?
Is there any sport practised today that can be considered exempt from the use of performance-enhancing substances?
Many doubt that this would ever be the case as athletes and coaches push the envelope.
As mentioned in a previous article coaches, in their own anxiety to win at all cost try ever-newer substances that are either not yet on the WADA list of prohibited substances and/or not yet detectable.
While the athlete remains responsible for what is found in his/her body the reality is that in some cases they really do not know because they have so much confidence in their coaches and the latter’s advisors.
One of the most recent designer drugs is part of a rub. Imagine that!
A coach can tell an athlete that this individual could administer a massage only for the athlete to find out later on that the rub itself included performance-enhancing drugs.
Winning is everything has become the mantra of many a coach and athlete. In some cases they appear to be together in the adoption of this philosophical line.
It is also true that in some cases the winning is everything stance is introduced and encouraged at home. Some parents adopt this attitude with respect to the education of their children. Others leave it to sport.
In whatever field of endeavour it is a philosophical stance that is detrimental to the well being of the individual who is essentially nurtured into its adoption.
In sport, which is our concern here, we have seen too many individual athletes suffer as a result of being forced to adopt this approach.
It may well be that in today’s sporting environment it is too late to return to the emphasis being place don participation and doing one’s best.
However, our educators must nonetheless try to facilitate greater appreciation for getting the right start and that begins in the home. Parents must be encouraged to engage their children in the fundamentals of participation for their overall well being. They must encourage their children to be the best that they can be and to accept this for what it is.
Striving after excellence is an admirable goal but it must never be allowed to translate into wining at all cost if only because winning is not everything there is to life.