Something to gain from Gains

I read an article a couple of months ago that didn’t sit well with me and my peers, “Gains: Canadian track and field athletes have a lot to learn”. Paul Gains, a CBC sports writer, was reporting from the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and had the audacity to suggest that Canadians “might be better off to watch reruns of Canadian Idol” over the London Olympics next year. He went on to cite several impressive World Championships results of athletes from countries without a strong history in the sport, ultimately claiming that Canadian athletes do not have an adequate desire to succeed and would thus do well to “take up chess”.

It is apparent why athletes across the country would be offended by Gains’ article. Julia Wilkinson, a Canadian swimmer, summed up the athlete perspective in her retort, “My response to a journalistic slap in the face”. Wilkinson stresses the delicate balance between desiring success and maintaining sanity throughout the process of achieving it. She communicates her personal desire to win an Olympic medal next year, and assures the public that she, and many athletes like her, are doing everything they can to make that goal a reality.

I’ve been reflecting on Gains’ article for some time and I surprisingly find myself in support of some of his notions…that is, until I refer back his article; doing so only refreshes the bad taste in my mouth. If it weren’t for the low blows and patronizing tone that instinctively generated a defensive position, his article may have been much better received in the athletic world, although perhaps a “nicer” style would probably not have generated as much interest…

In the spirit of integrative thinking, and not without effort, I am attempting to leave my ego at the door and give Gains’ model of the Canadian athletic scene a fair chance. After all, there must be a reason he holds this view, and an opposing model always presents a perfect opportunity to learn a thing or two.

Gains reasons that with the medal count denoting success and entertainment value (a fair assumption), Canadian athletes ought to consider the lack of podium finishes at the 2011 World Championships a wake-up call. Gains suggests that Canadian athletes are motivated by shoe contracts, agents, and facilities over the desire to succeed, and that Canadian athletes “must lay down their mobile phones, cut back their Facebook and Twitter time, train harder, learn from the best, and have blind faith in whatever training program they receive.”

It only makes sense that a reporter would be a little out of touch with the reality of athletics, and so I think it is safe to assume Wilkinson is correct in saying Canadian athletes are training hard. But are our athletes doing everything they can as Wilkinson suggests? Surely that is impossible. If a training program is not yielding results, tweak it. If competition performance is not reflecting ability, meet with a sport psychologist. If a technique is proving hard to master, think outside the box and get creative. I am confident that there is always something to improve, something more that can be done. If our athletes are not meeting a reporter’s or the public’s expectations, that is one thing. But when they’re not meeting their own expectations, there must be something missing. This, I believe, is what Gains was getting at.

Funding is a logical candidate for this missing link; government funding of athletics is controversial and arguably insufficient to fully facilitate achieving podium goals. Yet, solutions abound, and a lack of hand-outs is never a valid excuse for falling short of goals. So while I agree with Gains that there must be a fundamental desire to succeed before seeking sponsorship and any other additional bonuses, the financial burden is not imaginary. Furthermore, in dismissing social media tools as mere distractions, Gains is missing the valuable role these tools play in building and maintaining community partnerships and necessary financial assistance.

The bottom line is that Gains’ (unfortunately worded) message has some merit. We should not get too comfortable in our grueling training routines. I believe we can always commit further to doing everything in our power to succeed, in all aspects of our training.

“Man must exist in a state of balance between risk and safety. Pure risk leads to self-destruction. Pure safety leads to stagnation. In between lies survival and progress.”
– Author Unknown

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One thought on “Something to gain from Gains

  1. Well isn’t that a nice little article about Canadian athletes by Paul. I don’t feel it deserving to address him with “Mr.” because we mostly reserve that prefix to address educators and role models in children’s lives, and judging by his article, he is being neither. Without even trying to be offensive, I had no idea who “Paul Gains” even was so I decided to look him up. And the first thing that came up was that he is a “freelance writer for CBC”. That interested me because the entire premise of his article was to inform Canadian athletes of their lack of determination and aspiration, and the guy who is proclaiming this can’t even hold a full time job!

    Oh, and while we are on the topic of repaying discredit where it is very well needed. Who are you to claim that athletes spend too much time on social media, you are a Journalist, the only way to measure the success of your work is based on popularity. An athlete that builds a support group and networks is an athlete that is giving themselves a better chance at acquiring funding or assistance of any kind because they are promoting themselves. While I agree that there should be a balance as to the depth of this journey documentation, your main point is that Canadians lack the desire to succeed. Well an athlete that attempts to secure funding, is an athlete that is attempting to give themselves a better chance at success, so I fail to see how your logic adds up.

    If Paul ever attended any provincial high school championship in this country he would realize that the talent base in Canada is among the same level as anywhere else in the world. When he sees this he would realize the gap between the naturally talented youth in this country and the amount of world class athletes that develop as a product from that talent base. Our system seems to be improving for breeding athletes in this country but it has a long way to go.

    I personally know athletes who have sacrificed their livelihoods to become world class, if that isn’t dedication I don’t know what is.

    The problem for Paul is that his job is to “report” or bring something to light. The redundancy with this profession is the lack of a filter in regards to what he is bringing to light. I read the news every day, and check constantly, and I do not have enough fingers and toes to count how many times a news article is released on information that every single member of the public already knows. This article is very close to being one of them.

    Instead of researching for info on which you can base criticism to rocket “your-selfish” into the public spotlight, why not take the role of a leader, and innovator, or even a genius and write an article about how we can better the performance of our athletes and help them attain more podiums. Tell us how to help athletes attain podiums and finish top of the world and how to gain the determination of these world class athletes. Offer our athletes an article that they can read to encourage their training rather than one that they will read and distract themselves from their quest to the podium; and hey, if you write an true and embracing article like that, someone might even offer you a full time job!

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