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A healthier approach to competition

India cannot boast of a hoary past so far as modern sport is concerned. In fact, India never had a sporting culture in the modern sense of the term. Well into the last two decades of the last century, India more or less followed Pierre de Coubertin’s famous quote: Winning is not everything, participation is the most important thing. Thus, Indians would participate in several events at the World stage and would come back beaten, patting themselves on the back with the comment “hard luck, better luck next time”.

Things began to change with Prakash Padukone winning the All England in 1980, India organizing and doing really well in the New Delhi Asian Games in 1982, India winning the World Cup Cricket in 1983. This brought sports more into the daily life of the average Indian, thanks to Television which became a national entertainment media at that time. Smaller families, a two children family, game scope for the children to be more selfish, aggressive and bold than those who were brought up during the times of larger families with empan hasis on an sharing, putting others before themselves etc.

Now, we stand at a time where Pierre de Coubertin’s quote has all but disappeared only to be replaced by Vincent Lombardi’s quote which starts the same way, but ends differently. “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing!”. Here, we can easily make out the quintessential difference between ‘play’ and ‘modern sport’. Play is participation-centric and is always fun. But, modern sport is competition ocompetition-orientedriented and places premium on winning at all costs. This puts extreme stress on the participants, especially children and young adults.

Knowing fully well the harmful effects of competition related stress, why are we pushing our children into sports? It is because of the many advantages it bestows on children who participate in it. It allows the participants to know their bodies better, makes them realise the value of exercise, discipline and their lifelong benefits. It enables the participants to take defeat in their stride and march on, putting their best effort always. It also makes them understand that sports, like life is not always fair! I do not think you can pack so much of life skills training in any other area of human activity.

Now comes our job of helping youngsters cope with the inherent pressure of competitive sports. For this, both parents and coaches have a major role to play. To begin with, parents should expose their children to as many sports as possible and try and find out in which one does their child have passion. It is not easy for small children to identify their passion but, gradually, we can make this out. This is why Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) programs of many countries advocate children to be exposed to three sports before they attain 12 years of age. It is amusing to note that both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer chose Tennis as their primary sports over Football only after they turned 12!

Then comes the difficult task of putting effort ahead of winning. This is very difficult even for parents and coaches and then should be say how tough it will be for the participants? The idea is to take the extreme focus away from winning and place it on putting in maximum effort. Many western nations have succeeded in doing this in academics, always congratulating students for the effort they have put in, whether they have topped the class or not. This would mean a process-oriented approach than a performance-oriented approach to sports.

The coach / parent would lay emphasis on the player behaving properly on court, respecting the line umpiring and umpiring decisions, conducting himself with sportsmanship, greeting the victor / vanquished warmly after the match and putting in cent percent effort till the last point is played. The question as to who won the match comes only later. The more important question would be whether the player has been able to put into practice, whatever he has been taught and practiced till date. This approach, if diligently practiced by coaches and parents, would make the players take competition in the right sense, the sense it was meant to be taken, the original word meaning of competition meant ‘to strive together’.

It is only natural that children, in the beginning at least, would be fearful of competition. They have to be educated that courage is not the absence of fear. Fear has been inserted into our psyche a protective measure. Otherwise, we would jump off buildings fearlessly, and meet our end! Courage is the ability to face adversity while being fully aware of the dangers consequences involved. This realization will enable children to go ahead and do it, whatever be the situation he is in, match point, match point down, opponent leading, more highly rated opponent, hostile crowd, poor umpiring decisions etc.

All of this means lots of work for all those involved in sports and coaching. These are days of specialization and there are many experts available who can handhold children through these troubled waters, right from a young age. For those who have access to these resources, it is a blessing in disguise and for those who do not, a coach who has at least a smattering of sports psychology will be the only go-to. No wonder, coach education is of supreme importance in a country like India, where millions are taking to sports, with stars in their eyes, wanting their children to become Sindhus, Neerajs, Sainas and Mary Koms.

About the author

Balachandran Raman has assisted Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar in training top athletes including Pullela Gopichand to today's champion Lakshya Sen.

As Technical Head at Padukone Sports Management, he is engaged in the training of young coaches, preparation of lesson plans at our different venues, assessments of players

at 30 to 40 of our centers all over India. He has impacted more than 500 coaches so far through this certification course.

About Simply Sport

Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based out of India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.



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