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Graham Pound's Personal Training Blog

Talking all things health and fitness

As part of my continued personal development I am studying a degree in Sports, Fitness and Coaching. This means I spend a lot of time at my laptop reading all about health, fitness and sport. This blog is a place for me to share snippets of material I have studied with you and talk about how I think it can be applied to the everyday athlete.

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Everyone's a Winner

Many a time I've found myself wasting time reading Facebook comments on this one, winding myself up and debating writing a comment. Instead of replying to these people I thought it a far better use of my time to vent it all out on here, potentially to someone who might be interested. While this one isn't strictly PT related, I think it's an interesting subject, especially for people involved with coaching or instructing children.

Getting to the point then. How often have you heard the stereotypical beer belly dad (or mum, whatever, I don't discriminate) upset that everyone who attended his kids sports day got a medal? Making comments like, 'that doesn't teach them about real life' or 'in my day there was only one winner'. More to the point, do you agree with them? I'll be honest, I used to, before I started to educate myself and look at the bigger picture.

If you do hold that opinion there are a few things you need to consider. Your level of education (specifically in coaching), your experience in sport and your age for a start. If you don't have any education in coaching, maybe hear me out because I might make some points you hadn't considered. If you never really made it far in sport and gave up when you were young, you might have benifited from some participation medals. Finally, if you are getting on, there's a decent chance the research has changed since you were a kid meaning your opinion might be based on information that's a little outdated. The best way to explain this I think is with a bit of a story. We'll call the main character little Jimmy.....

Little Jimmy is in an athletics club, he's the smallest one in his age range and never really wins any races because of the height difference between him and his opponants. Little Jimmy's coach though, is very good. He always makes sure Jimmy gets a participation medal, tells him he did a great job and made sure he always felt like he was an asset to his club. He got invited to all the club events, track days and awards ceremonies. Making little Jimmy feel valued and rewarding his effort kept him coming back week after week. Fast forward a year or two, little Jimmy is now medium Jimmy. His legs are a little bit longer, he's a little bit faster. Now he starts winning. Over and over again. With the consistency he's put in by the time he's long Jimmy he could be well on the way to national, international or even olympic competition.

So rewind a little bit then, what happens if little Jimmy's coach wasn't very good and didn't reward Jimmy's effort? Instead, he only focused on lanky Liam because lanky Liam was tall for his age and won every race he entered until he was 10. Jimmy becomes despondent, he never gets the opportunity to take home a medal and tell his family about how brilliant his coach said he was. He doesn't feel valued so eventually, he leaves the club, never to realise his potential. Meanwhile lanky Liam stops being flavour of the month because all the other kids grew while he didn't. He stops winning medals, his coach stops paying attention to him and shifts his attention to the next winner and Liam decides to give up too. He might even feel like he's a bit of a failure. If little Jimmy and lanky Liam's coach adopted the mindset of, there's only one winner and losers don't deserve trophies, he ends up losing two athletes in the long run.

Forget the competition for a minute. After all, 99% of athletes never come close to any sort of high level competition. What's important here is that every child needs to feel like a winner. As coaches we need to make children feel valued to keep them in sport. Firstly, we are less likely to put potential champions off sport before they've had the chance to excel but also, it creates healthier adults. If coaches keep more people in sport they might not always win medals but are far more likely to look after themselves, not end up a beer bellied dad (or mum) 3 weeks away from a heart attack at sports day telling everyone how in his day there was only one winner!

This story lends itself to something called a Growth Mindset. This is a little snippet of a paper I submitted recently that explains it very breifly:

Studies suggest that creating an environment in which athletes feel they can safely make mistakes is an effective way to accelerate development. By focusing on the process rather than the result this can be achieved. Dweck (2012) explains that athletes with coaches who embrace mistakes as part of the process develop a growth mindset. An athlete with a growth mindset sees hard tasks as an opportunity to learn. A person with a fixed mindset, the opposite mindset, will avoid these tasks as they’re afraid to fail.

If you apply this to the story above, Jimmy is likely to have a growth mindset and Liam, a fixed mindset. Jimmy has been taught to enjoy the process where Liam was taught to enjoy winning. That sort of debunks the suggestion that participation trophies don't teach you about real life. I'd much rather have a growth mindset than a gold medal from sports day 1998.

Wrapping it up then. Encourage your athletes. Encourage your kids. Teach them to enjoy the process and not focus on having to win all the time. It'll give them a winning mindset for life, not just sport.

Copy and paste this into your search bar to read about a growth mindset written by someone far more intelligent than me:

Dweck, C. S. (2012)Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential, London, Robinson

Little add on here for anyone who decides the read this blog who teaches martial arts. One thing I tried recently to teach my students to enjoy the process was to give them a goal heading into a competition. It could be, throw a lead leg side kick once per round. Finish a pattern. Just turn up and start a pattern. Whatever it is, I made it easily achievable provided they make effort to pull it off. Then when they got back to class I was able to celebrate every students effort win or lose and they felt proud of themselves. I'm not saying not to celebrate students who win medals, I just think it's wise to celebrate everyones effort and make even those who didn't win feel like they still achieved.

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