Winning is the goal in all sports. That is what people train and practice for, but someone has to lose and it does not always mean the best rises to the top.
I am reminded of this as I watched a college basketball game this past weekend in Spokane, Washington, and my nightly ritual of being glued to Olympic coverage on TV. There is an element of luck, timing, and refereeing that enter into the final outcome.
I am dismayed with the media for continuing to say that our American team is coming up “short” in their sports and medal count. In fact, it seems that the media pays more attention to those not getting a medal than those that win. This also plays out in student sports at the high school and college level.
Shaun White has been heavily scrutinized for not winning, and some even have said his time as an icon in the halfpipe is over. He is a pioneer in this sport and has propelled others to rise to his level and beyond. He also has handled the loss with great restraint, a happy face, self analysis, and demonstrated a caring demeanor, while the winner, Podladtchikov, could not stop hugging Shaun in disbelief that he had performed better than the man who set the bar so high for all of the competitors. That was a defining sports moment for everyone.
White could have rested on past achievements, but he chose to take the risk and compete again. These behaviors are what we should be focusing on rather than marking him and other USA team members as disappointing losers.
Bodie Miller continues to excel and did medal as well as many others of our Olympians. As I watch these athletes perform, I am in awe that they put fear aside and do their very best to make America, their families and friends proud.
Their opportunity to win only comes around once every four years. It takes constant preparation, competition, training, and the knowledge that you lose it all in a few seconds—a slip or a fall, and you are done. The pressure is huge, the payoff great and the loss not to be forgotten.
We need to re-evaluate our expectations for our team in the context of what it means to compete for the medals and not discount the qualities of humility, sportsmanship, teamwork, resilience, and effort.
What are we teaching our children who are involved in sports if we only revere the winner and not celebrate the work ethic, expertise, and the passion to be the best in your sport.
How can we enjoy sports if we do not put it in the human context and recognize the tremendous work it takes to qualify for the games? If we drive people into the ground reminding them that they failed how will we encourage people to take risks, overcome fear and go out and do things that make us a better world and place to live. Success is built on failure. You cannot win if losing paralyzes you. Effort often wins the race in life. We have all seen gifted and talented people who never succeeded because they never put their talent or gifts to work.
College sports have changed since I attended Long Beach and LaVerne University. I had the honor of sitting in prime seats at the Gonzaga game right behind the coaches and players and across from the student section. The fans and students have great influence over how the other team performs as well as the home team. The effects of planned student rooting, chants, gestures, signs, and concerted back turning all are designed to impact the performance of opposing teams and gain points for the home team.
It is unbelievable how students can dominate the atmosphere to influence the game for the home team. Home court advantage is clear when colleges have students as well organized as Gonzaga University.
The question arises again of what is appropriate, acceptable and does not cast a bad image upon the schools with active student bodies in sports.
We are pushing the borders and have to ask ourselves if we promote good sportsmanship or unacceptable practices, which influence win/loss at the expense of players and fans, when it goes too far and is offensive to the opposing teams. At what cost and how fair is the playing field with all these factors involved?
What we should strive for is a fun competitive balanced atmosphere that does not compromise the integrity, skill level, training, and mental toughness that is required for fair competition whether in the Olympics, school sports programs, and professional sports.
I’m proud of our USA teams for showing the right stuff in Sochi.
That is My Take,
Dr. Gloria J. Alkire