Friday, December 19, 2008

Why have goalposts at all?

I have a son who is studying PE/sports science in 6th form. He is sports mad and thoroughly enjoys what he learns in these lessons. He even finds the associated theory riveting. In the midst of all the trials the poor child is experiencing, this subject has been the one bright spot. We recently received a letter from the head commending his application and effort and saying that his hard work had been noted at the highest levels in the school. After a spate of negative letters, this was like finding a fresh spring!

The thing is, he seems to be the exception in the class.

When they have a practical lesson, he gives it his all - regardless of the sport being played. This is really driving the rest of the class nuts.

Honestly, B----, why do you have to take it so seriously?
Oh, lighten up!
Why do you have to make a competition out of everything?
It's not always a competition you know!
It's not about winning!

He gets the feeling that is considered mildly indecent to try to win. He was letting off steam about this recently and said two very insightful things:

  1. If it's not about winning, why do we keep score?
  2. If it not a competition, why don't we just get rid of the goalposts, the try line, the finish line?
Is this distaste for competition not perhaps a little dangerous?
  • There may be other contenders for the heart of the love of your life
  • There are bound to be other applicants for the job you want
  • You can almost guarantee that there will be more applicants than spaces for the study programme you want to follow
  • If you don't have goals, how will you assess your progress?
  • If you don't break a sweat from time to time, how will you ever know what you're capable of?
But the thing that worries me most is that the loss of a sense of competition seems inevitably related to drive, energy and enthusiasm in general. As far as I can tell, there is a growing number of people who are so completely disaffected as not to care very much about anything. Their whole lives appear to have become desultory - no other word will suffice. And I see an increasing number of them in some workplaces.

Maybe it's too much of a stretch to lay the blame for this at the door of those dreadful 'sports days' where no spectators are allowed, no-one wins, no-one loses and a bunch of kids aimlessly drift from station to station around a circuit. But I'm willing to bet it doesn't help!

Now I'm not advocating that we encourage our kids to go out there and draw blood in order to win at all costs, but I would like to see them being encouraged to care, to try.


Clark said...

The goal is to measure against objective metrics *and* your own last performance. That's really what your son is doing, it's just that in trying to be better than he was last time, he seems to be very competitive, but it's really about passion. The fact that others can't see that is their problem, not his.
He needs to recognize this, and convey it calmly to his mates. Plenty of wise people tell you to pursue your passion, he's doing it. More power to him.

The upsycho said...

@Clark I'm sure there's an element of what you say, but most of all, I think that, when it comes to sports, my son wants to WIN!

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with wanting to win. You can't feel joy without grief. You can't feel the joy of winning a game without losing a few. Everything else is a celebration of mediocrity. He has no control over other people's reactions - just his own response to those reactions. Tough when it's your peers.

V Yonkers said...

I'm not sure if this is a cultural thing, but in fact my son has the opposite problem. Sports is taken VERY seriously in the states and if you don't measure up, you get the, "honestly, why are you even playing if you can't win for us?"

As a result, those that put their heart and soul into the sports but can't help the team are delegated to the "loser" sideline. Believe me, this is as damaging as what your son is going through academically. On the other hand, boys that excel academically are sort of looked down upon. "You're ruining the curve for all of us."

I think there needs to be some medium in which each person's ability is recognized and they are encouraged to work on their weaknesses.

My theory is that for your son, he takes it seriously because it is something he can do well and excel at. The ones who question his motives are probably those that excel academically. It is too bad that at this age they don't see the talents in each other and try to build others egos up (great try in kicking that ball, just turn your foot a bit next time and it'll get into the goal rather than, what do you think you're doing, AIM or you did really well on the reading part, if you need help on the vocab, maybe we study together, rather than, boy, did you do awful on that test--did you study?). But I think it is part of the posturing of adolescent boys.

The upsycho said...

@Janet Agreed.

@Virginia I am fairly certain that it is a cultural thing. In South Africa, sport is pretty much as you describe it. When I was in my final year of primary school, for example, we had 5 netball teams just at that age level. There were about the same number at every age level from the littleys to the final year of high school. Here in the UK, there is often one team per school at primary level and one team per year group in secondary.

Every South African child is expected to play at least one winter and one summer sport. Here there is nowhere near enough sport provision for that level of turnout!

Most times British people ascribe our competitiveness to the fact that we are South African.

Sad really.