I, like many other young people, looked up to these athletes as my heroes – but what happens when our heroes let us down? Take James Magnussen for example. In 2012, he was the fastest man in the water for 100m Freestyle. For the entire lead up to the Olympics, he was painted by the media as Australia’s golden boy, earning the title ‘the Missile.’ Then the unthinkable happened: At the 2012 London Olympics, he got second by a fingernail’s length. Quickly, the narrative changed. Now, Magnussen was no longer the golden boy – instead, he was branded by some to be a loser and a disappointment. Apparently, silver is not good enough on the world stage. So what does this narrative convey to the young people who watched, glassy eyed, as their hero’s reputation was tarnished?
Because of Australia’s love of sports, we’ve built up a competitive spirit. We’re a country of underdogs, a country of only a few million against the likes of China, Japan, Russia, and of course the USA. But somewhere along the line we started to get good at sport – like, really, really good. All of a sudden, this underdog became a global power in the sporting world. And this change can have serious impacts on the young people of today. It is especially tough to be the type of person who has spent their whole life winning, only to have someone come along and beat you in something you thought you were unbeatable in, because you were young and naïve. And once this happens, you feel a gut-wrenching feeling of disappointment. You feel as though you’ve let the entire world down, and you give up something that you once loved, simply because now you have some competition.
But isn’t competition meant to be a good thing? This ‘winning’ attitude that has not only be adopted by the media, but also by the people of Australia, is in dire need of a shake-up. It needs to be taught to young people that it is ok to lose, because losing just makes you stronger in the future. ‘Losing’ just means improving, and learning new things about yourself and your competitors and your abilities. Besides, how you rank shouldn’t affect your desire to participate in the first place. It needs to be accepted that you can just enter and still be a winner, no matter your place: hence the need for participation trophies! Coming 100th out of 100 competitors should not be considered coming last, because you showed up and gave it your best, and that is a win. It is time that everyone should be a considered a winner for attempting something, because just by trying, you’ve already beaten the people that didn’t.
NB: The author did not supply an image for this piece, we chose a humdinger ourselves.