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