Here in London the Olympics are but a heart-beat away; the papers full of some Olympic related story most days, mostly to do with the financial benefits of the event. But for we lesser mortals what is the benefit of playing sport?
In good old Oz, to ask such a question meant you obviously didn’t play sport and you probably weren’t Australian. Sport is central to the Australian psyche, but it’s not a world-wide phenomenon. When I went to school everyone played sport, hockey, netball, football (Aussie Rules) in winter; softball and cricket in summer. You trained mid week and completed on the weekend. I had the misfortune to go all the way through high school in the B Girls Hockey team. We won a few games, even made a grand final one year: against our A Girls Hockey team who never lost A SINGLE GAME in four years. A tad dispiriting.
But you don’t play sport just to win. And herein lies the point of today’s blog. Playing sport is one of those things that makes a difference to the sort of person you are and you become. I played competitive sport from the time I was 10 to 25, just before I got married (and got heavily involved in other sorts of ‘sport’) and I believe it is one the reasons I am good at forging and managing teams, and why I believe in fairness.
I spent years on the river, sailing or rowing, then returned to hockey and netball and even had a season of basketball. I swam recreationally for years. I was fit, healthy and strong. True I never operated at the elite level but I won a few races in my Sabot, I was part of championship winning crews and made it into State rep squads a couple of times. Perhaps I lacked the killer instinct needed to make the next level?
I spent my uni years getting up a 5:15 to be on the water at 6am. I ran up vertical hills, I lifted weights, I had blisters on my hands, I got wet, I ached a lot and got shouted at a great deal but I loved it. I loved anything to do with the water so sailing, and especially rowing in the quiet of the day, on the stillness of the river was divine.
It’s worth remembering that sport teaches you about you, about how to work with others – and in a shell it’s an imperative otherwise you get an oar in your back, you can stop the whole thing by being out of time and at very worst you can all end up in the water, which never actually happened. You have to concentrate, you have to go with the will of others; you have to do what everyone else is at the very same time.
Sport teaches you that to win, or to be good at your sport you have to train, you have to work on your technique, you have to take instruction, you have to be devoted, or somewhat obsessed to compete well. You have to train hard, give up time for it, give up many things for it; be completed focused.
Sport teaches you how to lose; that losing is shit, but it’s not the end of the world, that you pick yourself up and get back in the boat and try again. You also learn to see the skills in others, to recognise and applaud the better player.
Sport exhausts you. When you train hard and compete hard you end up physically exhausted but also exhilarated. All those feel good endorphins in your brain kick in and you end up with your natural high. Depressives should play sport, or at least be working their body hard at the gym or in the pool.
I also had a lot of fun and made some great friends, life-long friends in fact.
Having had sport as part of my life forever – as a teacher I was also a coach, hockey and rowing; as a parent my kids were ferried to netball, basketball, rowing, karate, etc – I am staggered to observe how little playing sport impacts on the students where I now work. True there are some teams who go off and play and do well but there is not a culture of training, playing competing. Some boys are in football teams but I don’t see many girls. And the amount of students who regularly ‘forget’ their kit is symptomatic of students who don’t understand why fitness and sport matters to them.
Why does this trouble me? Sport is one of the few legitimate outlets for teenage aggression and frustration and the teenagers I work with are especially aggressive and angry – a step away from gangs and knives. Why aren’t they learning how to get on with others, whether you like them or not, listening to an adult instruct them, running themselves ragged on a pitch somewhere, playing like demons hunting that ball into oblivion?
Kids, inner-city kids especially need as much help as they can to become decent human beings: sport will help them. They may not end up being Cesc Fabregas or David Beckham but they will enhance their life chances by learning lessons on the field of sport that they can’t (or won’t) learn in the classroom.
Team sport, following rules, working with others, developing your skills, learning how to win and how to lose are all things that spill into our everyday lives. You don’t have to get to the Olympics for sport to have been a winner in your life. (Images courtesy Google Images)