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School of sport: What should we do?

BY TIM MIDDLETON
IN a previous article we considered whether a player is good at a sport because he enjoys it or if he enjoys the sport because he is good at it. It is a similar point as to whether we should work on our strengths or our weaknesses.

Equally, we debate whether the best form of defence is attack – do we simply need to ensure we concede no goals or do we go out to score more goals than our opponents? Then, in a similar vein, do we put our best coaches in charge of our senior teams or should we have them coach our youngest teams? We are very good at finding fault but not so strong at providing solutions to the fault. What should we do? What should be our emphasis?

It is a similar situation whereby schools might give a scholarship or sponsorship to someone who does not actually need it when someone who is also very talented needs a scholarship but does not get it. We sometimes find there is a prize for the Best Goalkeeper at a hockey tournament, with the prize being a whole new set of goalkeeper’s kit; however, the best goalkeeper may have been the best goalkeeper because he already had the best kit.

When we have a choice of two important, good, right things, we may find it hard to decide. This becomes relevant when we consider, in relation to sport, the view that Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator, made when he opined that he found it “Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.” Why then might that be curious? Which should we choose?

When we pause to think about this, we might realise that those who succeed do not actually need congratulations as they already have received much attention and glory by that success – the congratulations just add to that success. They have done well, sure; they have deserved their accolade, recognition and praise, no question. They already have a great feeling from winning so do not need more from congratulations being offered, in order to motivate and inspire them to further great deeds. Indeed, more attention could well be harmful as all the attention plus the congratulations could well make them big-headed and lose focus.

Of course, the reason we might tend to congratulate the successful ones is because we ourselves want to take some of the credit; we want some of the attention. It is a lovely relaxed happy environment and we can bathe in it as well. We also want to get something out of the event, even if vicariously. Perhaps we are the ones who are encouraged by offering the congratulations.

Why then might we choose to consider Tyson’s alternative as the better option? Just as the winners bask not only in their success but also in the congratulations that follow, so the losers not only have to deal with the reality of the disappointment of their defeat but they also have to look on as the winners receive further acclaim. The double boost is also a double whammy. It is hard work, facing disappointment in the first place, but it is harder still dealing with it in the face of exaltation.

We do well to remember as well that only one wins but many lose. We do even better to remember that if we want further competition, we need to build up those who lost to be willing to go again.

DeGrasse Tyson made the claim that, in scientific terms, “Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us.” In sporting terms, we may well carry that same logic through and realise that we all may live among the stars of the sports world, those who succeed, but each child has the chance to be the star themselves, within themselves, if they are all encouraged.

We need wisdom and integrity to determine what is right from right. For many, we should take seriously the point that DeGrasse Tyson made: we should spend more time encouraging those who lose than congratulating those who succeed. Do we give more attention in school Assemblies to the teams that won than to those that lost? It needs to be noted, it is not wrong to congratulate those who succeed. DeGrasse Tyson is also quoted as saying: “The very nature of science is discoveries, and the best of those discoveries are the ones you don’t expect.”

We might just discover that this unexpected choice, of encouraging more than congratulating, is the right one. It is not, after all, exactly rocket science. However, it will transport youngsters to a greater height and enjoyment.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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