Is the self-image of pro athletes so poor that they need to see the pain of others to feel better about themselves, to feel better about their win? Why do pros demand those who win do so in pain, by suffering? If an athlete is sucking their thumb because they aren’t first, then who cares if they drop out or remain in the race? If an athlete is whining because they have to decide between a DNF or an undesirable finishing place because they under-trained, over-trained, didn’t execute a pacing or race strategy in competition, or because their expectations of winning are being replaced with an unpalatable reality as competitors fly by, then boo-hoo.
If an athlete is suffering for any reason, no champion would demand the athlete to continue on, instead they would want that athlete to drop out, recover, and train to compete again at their fullest on another day. No champion would consider besting such an athlete as any sort of victory. Champions want to compete head to head with the best, at their best.
We confuse the position of 1st place with the qualities of a champion, they are not the same: one is given to you in the form of a medal or trophy, the other is something you become, you cannot win it nor lose it.
Do the pros not realize that there is a generation watching them, listening to everything they say, retaining everything they see, idolizing them (rightly or not). Is this how pros want age group athletes to engage in competition with one another, emulating a contest of egos not athleticism? Is the goal that 12 year olds must bloody each other in competition to feel true victory? Has ambition numbed everyone to the point where “one for all, all for one” is dead?
What’s going on? Are coaches not serving as the kill-switch and are thereby encouraging this mindset, or do athletes not realize that they require a coach to balance short and long term objectives, so that the goals which underpin training – those of health, longevity, well-being – are and remain the true focus at all times.
What is going on in sport where ‘PR or ER’ is seen as a triumph, instead of recognizing for what it is… an impaired mental state?
This mindset does not reflect a healthy balance of training and competition, it reveals a mindset of gambling… all in, I will PR or ER, I will hit that finish line, or else. Or else what? Race beyond my abilities to the point that I injure or drive myself so far that I hospitalize myself, or end up on the verge of death, or entirely dead? Based on the VeloNews article titled “Cycling to Extremes”, masters athletes don’t even need competition to drive themselves into the ground, athletes are training themselves into needing pacemakers all the while thinking that they are training appropriately, for their health, for longevity.
Cycling to Extremes: Are endurance athletes hurting their hearts by repeatedly pushing beyond what is normal?
When did hospitalization become synonymous with health, fitness, with athletic ability? Our heads are so far up our asses that we have lost any last shred of perspective. Has all the HIIT, the sugary sports nutrition, and lack of sleep finally and completely impaired our capacity to think and feel to the point where we no longer make reasonable decisions? It would seem so. Whatever the cause, we need to wake up from our mindless state which is passing for health.
The media showcases acts of ‘fighting til the bitter end’ as courageous, as tests, as opportunities to learn who we truly are… maybe, but maybe human pain makes for good TV ratings, and good ratings make for good advertising revenue, and nothing more. If athletes are submitting to the push and pull of media, then its only a matter of time before all sports are striped mined of all their spirit, and are left hollowed-out, ending up as some sort of reality show. Competitions will no longer be athletic, they will be staged events, performances scripted, manipulated for the sake of confrontation, with ‘athletes’ selected not on athletic ability but by ‘likes’. Sport, if it hasn’t already become a mindless form of entertainment is on the verge with the athletes and their coaches to blame.
If forcing success was limited to professional athletes, then perhaps it could be contained, but it isn’t. The books by Mark Hyman (‘Until It Hurts‘ and ‘The Most Expensive Game in Town‘) reveal that the trickle down effect of monkey see-monkey do is now placing inappropriate expectations on children athletes where (e.g.) surgery in the sport of baseball is seen as the gateway to pitching stardom. Meanwhile, the reality is that in the vast majority of Tommy John surgeries the outcome is the opposite… its a baseball career curtain call, not a Hall of Fame invite.
In my own experience, hearing children ‘retire’ from sport of swimming at the age of 13 or 14 seemed preposterous. But after witnessing coaches and parents push athletes to their limit, then exclaim that they are weak, unmotivated, or untalented when they fail to produce results, indicates that kids are retiring out of self-preservation, and have more sense then their parents and coaches combined. Kids dropping out of sport reveals that adults have lost all contact with reality, with what is healthy, as their well-intended but insatiable ambition for their children sets both their children and themselves up for a fall of epic proportions.
There is healthy striving and pushing of limits, and then there is the desperate drive for results as if forcing and causing results somehow guarantees a child’s success throughout life and absolves the adult of all their insecurities of whether or not they were a good parent/coach. Driving children towards a finish line which holds the illusion of panacea for adults doesn’t do anything for children. If anything it leaves children resentful, hating sport, sometimes hating their bodies, doubting their potential, misunderstanding what exactly is an active, healthy lifestyle, and unable to distinguish between failing as a step in a process of learning, versus being a failure. It leaves children and adults with the illusion that “healthy” comes by crossing a finish line no matter the cost (i.e. PR or ER mentality).
What have we done to sport, that it has so little semblance to healthy living?
Sports media has glorified the ‘all-in’ mentality, and there is something to that… at the right time, in the right place, in the right context, performed in a balance manner with a coach acting as a safety net, as a kill-switch. But ‘all-in’ 24/7 100% of the time is neither possible, nor healthy.
As a coach, my viewpoint is that the byproduct of the anxiety of ‘keeping up’ and ‘being good enough’ is that both athletes and coaches have abandoned actual coaching and with it any sense of balance, of sustainable training or competing, as anything less than ‘all-in’ 24/7 100% is deemed unworthy. Where is the need for a coach when there is nothing other than all-in all the time? What is there to coach? Anyone in the role of coach in this arrangement is no coach, they are a taskmaster, their objective is not to improve you, its to push you until you break irrespective of the physical, mental, and emotional cost. With this mindset passing as coaching, anything and everything becomes an acceptable tool: berating, yelling, screaming, diminishing, taunting the athlete to cough up another rep, to drop another second, to push for another centimeter. And we call this exercise and healthy no less? Its none of the above.
Sports media has lifted the expectation that sacrifice is expected in almost every competition. If an athlete could only lose an arm, a leg, or both and still compete… wow, now that would be ‘good’ entertainment. No different than in ancient Rome, where the bored and blood thirsty masses would go hungrily to the Colosseum to witness gladiator fights hoping to be entertained by the death of slaves. Matches would end when the Emperor would thumbs-up or thumbs-down the final blow… thumbs-up the opponent would be spared, allowed to live as a result of the quality of their fight; thumbs-down and the victor would kill his opponent on the spot.
Without coaches to serve as kill-switch, to throw in the towel, to pull an athlete, we are leaving the end point of competition up to new emperors Sports Media and Social Media and with that, competition is less and less about athletic excellence, and more and more about entertainment value irrespective of the cost placed on athletes, (e.g. concussions suffered by NFL and NHL players in the name of entertainment revenue and profit). Our hypocrisy comes full circle when we exclaim in shock that in order to entertain the masses, an athlete dopes or cheats.
I do not know exactly when the health and well-being of athletes became secondary, but with it we demonstrate a collective lack of respect for each other, for sport, and for life.
I salute all athletes who do in fact train and compete clean, for not bowing to the gods of money and media may challenge athletes more than any training that any coach could throw at them.