school of sport:with TIM MIDDLETON
Most people who follow sport of any kind have heard of Lance Armstrong; the question is, though, for what do we remember him? Many will hail him as an astonishingly successful cyclist who won the physically draining and daunting Tour de France cycle race an unprecedented seven times in a row; others will add that he achieved that greatness after over-coming testicular cancer (then becoming the founder of the Livestrong Foundation to aid cancer survivors); others, however, remember him for two things — he cheated (using drugs) and he lied about it for years. Here was a man who reached the pinnacle of his sport but whose life suffered massively as a result. He rose to great heights of success but success damaged him hugely, more than cancer ever did.
In a previous article, we quoted Marcelo Bielsa, the manager of Leeds United Football Club, a team that had just completed a successful season by gaining promotion to the lucrative English Premier League, speaking about this success. In the article, Bielsa is quoted as saying, “Being successful deforms us as human beings, it relaxes us, it plays tricks on us, it makes us worse individuals, it helps us fall in love with ourselves.” Everyone seeks success but it should come with a strong warning; success can damage your life. What might Bielsa have meant with his statement above?
Success deforms us as human beings. This is his strongest and most frightening statement. We can see though how success can deform us by giving us a big head which we cram full of praise and compliments and flattery. At the same time it blinds our eyes, such is the spotlight, so that we do not see the dangers that lie in the path ahead or the weaknesses that still exist in our game. It gives us flapping tongues which we use to taunt others or boast about yourselves.
Success can all too easily develop an overgrown ego. It clogs up our hearts and stunts our growth. It makes our hands clenched permanently shut, as we develop the habit of grabbing and taking things for ourselves and not offering anything to others.
Success relaxes us. When we are starting out, we strain every muscle to achieve the goal but once success comes, there is a great temptation and possibility that we relax, in the sense that we do not have the same hunger, passion, desire or commitment to achieve greater things. We will all know the saying that it is hard to get to the top but it is harder to stay at the top, not simply because now everyone else is gunning for us but more because we find it hard to maintain such levels of excellence. Success can be dangerous as it makes us drop our guard. Like the hare who eased up in the race against the tortoise in Aesop’s famous fable, we can become complacent with success and therefore lose out, often leaving it too late to recover our former glory.
Success plays tricks on us. Success has the habit of tricking us into thinking that we are something or someone that we are not. Success tricks us into thinking that winning is the be-all-and-end-all. It tricks us into thinking that the end justifies the means and that, as long as we win, it does not matter how we do it. It tricks us into thinking that our value and worth are measured by our performances.
Success makes us worse individuals. With success nowadays (more than ever before) comes massive hype, attention, adulation, even at school level. As a result we can all too easily and quickly become casual and conceited as well as lose focus and perspective. Equally, having tasted victory and success we find it much harder to handle defeat and failure, leading to us becoming angry, resentful and depressed when success does not come.
Any sports coach will always warn his team that the most dangerous moment in a match is the short period after the team has scored, this being the success of the moment; celebration causes us to take our eye off the ball, our foot off the pedal. Lance Armstrong, before his fall, once said that “The problem is we over-celebrate when we win and we over-react when we lose.” Every sports coach must prepare their players for whatever success may come their way; if he does not do so, he is being highly irresponsible and dangerous. We too often make too much of success; we do not realise just how much negative effect success can have on our life. There should be a government health warning: Beware! Success can damage our life seriously. It is time we teach our children that.
l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: firstname.lastname@example.org