What comes to mind when you think about sports? Most of us think about the Olympics. Some of us think of the professional athletes that seem to have it made. Maybe the football game you caught last night comes to mind. However, all of this barely scratches the surface of the complexity that is professional sports. What rarely crosses our minds is the amount of effort that is invested in training, the sacrifices it takes to get to the top, and the toll it takes on the athletes.
In an effort to get the full picture, below are 3 hard truths about sports.
1. Sports can bring out the worst in athletes.
When we learn about sports, the idea that sports aid with character development is often mentioned. However, some athletes have proven the opposite. One commonly known example is doping. Certain high profile athletes, including Lance Armstrong and Maria Sharapova, have admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs, even though many of these athletes were previously ambassadors of or supported anti-doping.
Another example is unhealthy rivalry between competitors. While some level of competitiveness between athletes is expected, Olympic swimmers Lilly King and Yulia Efimova brought their rivalry to a whole new level. During the 2016 Rio Olympics, King slammed Efimova in an interview for wagging her finger after Efimova placed first in her semi-final heat. King explicitly stated that she was “not a fan” of Efimova’s alleged drug cheating, despite Efimova being cleared to participate in the Olympics. While trash talking is common in sports, personal attacks at anything besides an athlete’s performance should be frowned upon.
What happens when your competitors are also your friends? In most sports, organizers of major competitions place a limit on the number of participants from each country. Because of the large pool of athletes and the limited number of events, there will be times where one athlete qualifies, and the other does not. Although most athletes try not to be sore losers, there are instances where friendships fall apart due to jealously. After all, there can only be one winner, and some athletes feel like it deserves to be them.
2. Hard work may not necessarily pay off.
As much as we would like to believe that the amount of effort put into training is directly proportional to the results obtained, that cannot be further from the truth, especially in sports. What we fail to consider is the amount of external factors that do play a part in an athlete’s performance.
Think about the gear that swimmers don during races – swimming caps, goggles, and tech suits. One unfortunate incident can ruin an athlete’s performance. Italian Olympic swimmer Flavia Zoccari was forced to give up a championship race after her tech suit split open seconds before her race. She may have put in hard work to get to where she was, but that fact that she could not display the result of her efforts remains. The same can be said for instances where the athlete’s gear malfunctions and ends up hindering their performance.
There is also the long debated controversy of talent versus hard work. I personally believe that most top athletes are where they are because of both talent and hard work, but there are athletes who are blessed with more talent than others. If you scrutinize the athletes at Olympics, you realize that a lot of the athletes are younger than expected. Take Penny Olesiak, a 16-year old Canadian swimmer, for example. She took home the gold in the women’s 100-meter freestyle, beating out crowd favorite Sarah Sjostrom, who held a faster personal best time and had much more experience than Olesiak. It is not to say that Sjostrom did not work hard, but that her execution of her performance was just lacking in some aspects, as compared to Olesiak.
3. Being a sports champion is an impossible dream.
It is safe to say that most athletes have dreamt of being an Olympic champion, but just how feasible is this dream? Looking specifically at Singapore – we have a population of about 5 million, and we have only managed to obtain 5 Olympic medals, with a single gold medal thus far. The chances of being a sports champion (or at least on that podium) is literally one in a million. Couple this already minute probability with the increasing academic rigor in Singapore, and the probability of you becoming an Olympic champion becomes negligible.
Even if we look at it in the context of bigger countries, such as the United States, it does not increase the chances. If anything, the probability of success becomes even smaller. While the US’s Olympic team looks to be a lot bigger than that of Singapore, they have sixty-five times the number of people to pick and choose from. To be the best of an individual state, or to place in a collegiate meet such as the NCAAs is an achievement in itself.
To hammer the final nail in the coffin, Singapore’s education system makes it difficult to juggle both academics and sports at an elite level. Unlike countries such as Russia and China, Singapore has a different support system. Athletes in those countries have support such as homeschooling programs, where they are given the opportunity to focus solely on their sports, with their academic program accommodating their training schedule. If we keep pushing our athletes to succeed both academically and in sports, there is a high chance they might end up burning out.
Doing sports at a professional level is a lot more complicated than it seems. The desire to succeed is no doubt one that is admirable. However, it takes a lot to balance this desire to win with the temptation of bending the rules and downright cheating. It is challenging to make it as a sports champion, but all the more sportsmen deserve our respect for keeping at a goal that seems to be impossible.