Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's not whether you win or lose, but...

Having worked with athletes in Canada, the United States, and Britain, I have often spoke of the difference in the development of high-performance in all three - and specifically, the differences in the philosophy of participation vs winning at young ages. How sport is approached at the younger age-groups is often a remarkably good predictor of the types of athletes that are produced at the top-end.  
Aron McGuire - a former decathlete and National Team Bobsled athlete for the United States is well-suited to discuss this topic.  As the Associate Director of Championship and National Teams for USA Track and Field, Aron has vast experience in all levels of sport in the United states.  Like me, he questions whether there is too much emphasis ‘participation’, and not enough on ‘winning’ - a construct that has recently begun creeping more and more into the US system...

It's not whether you win or lose, but...
a guest-post from Aron McGuire
Over the next month, the Unites States presidential candidates will participate in series of four debates. President Obama will debate Mitt Romney in arguably the most anticipated events of the campaign season. It will be critical for each candidate to influence voters, sway public opinion and connect with the masses with topics which will include foreign policy, unemployment rates and local economics. President Obama and Mitt Romney will need to be prepared to present their plans and opinions, as well as react to the other candidate’s comments.
Preparation is essential for winning the championship game, getting an A on a final exam or landing a dream job, but knowing what and how to prepare play a greater role to a successful outcome. Keeping score is something we all experience at an early age and, most often, keeping score and determining winners and losers is associated with sports. Everyone knows who won the World Cup or the Super Bowl. Several years ago, a trend of not keeping score at youth soccer leagues and baseball games started becoming popular. Perhaps the organizers want to encourage kids to have fun and exercise without the stress of focusing on winning or losing or parents want to spare their child hurt feelings of losing the game. Despite the intention, these organizers and parents are depriving the kids of an opportunely to develop one of life’s most critical skills – the ability to evaluate preparation.
One of the best things of sports at an early age is the development of life skills. We learn teamwork, goal setting, respect for others, hard work, etc. These life skills, if taught correctly, become valuable assets throughout our lives. Preparation is one of the key factors that influence successful outcomes, but more importantly, possessing the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of preparation is critical life skill that leads to future successful outcomes. Preparation is important but knowing what and how to prepare is critical. The earlier this skill is learned the sooner it can be used. Feedback is needed to evaluate preparation and develop the ability to evaluate the preparation. There are very few situations in life which provide immediate feedback better then the score of a game. The score lets us know if the training and practice we’ve been doing has been effective. Have we run enough miles, taken enough shots on goal or spent enough time in the weight room?
Possessing the ability to evaluate our preparation isn’t limited to sports. Let’s take look at a job interview. Most job interviews involve many applicants applying for one position. Basically, there is one winner and a bunch of losers. We provide the company with our resume, research the position and interview with someone or a group of people from the company. If we are fortunate to be the one winner and receive an offer for the job, we can determine that our preparation was effective. If we aren’t so fortunate and receive the disappointing form letter from HR thanking us for our time, we can conclude that we may need to update our resume, spend more time researching the position or work on our interview skill before applying for the next job. 
As President Obama and Mitt Romney prepare for the upcoming debates, they will spend many hours preparing themselves on global economics, health care and the role of the government. How effective their preparation is will play a key role in their success. Although the winner of the debates in unknown at the moment, perhaps one indication may be who played the most sports as child and did they keep score?


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