By John Burbridge firstname.lastname@example.org
I once covered a clinic put on by USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States.
One of the coaches for the USA National and Olympic teams was commissioned to be a keynote speaker at the end-of-clinic banquet. He started his speech by saying, “The most important thing athletes must always do is …”
You could almost guess what he was going to say next. Or could you? Sport-related platitudes have grown exponentially to where it might be difficult to cram them all onto a flash drive.
Follow your dreams.
Respect all, fear none.
Play like a champion, today
Try not to suck.
But what this coach said was none of the above. Instead … “Celebrate your victories.”
I can imagine for some people that this might be a little too close to “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” To encourage youth and young adults to celebrate their victories while possibly exasperating the grief that may be afflicting members of the losing team is definitely at odds in a world that not only embraces self-esteem, but seems hellbent on distributing it equally among the masses.
In fact, many youth leagues don’t even keep score of their games and matches, and don’t officially acknowledge winning teams while keeping up with this protocol.
There should be more to sports and athletics than just winning, thus spoke the echochamber. You should participate to have fun, to stay physically fit, to learn how to work with others, to become more socially active … OK, platitudes again, but the “other than winning” benefits are hard to argue with.
Maybe the main thing people have against victory celebrations is that you need to earn an invitation to the party. And for those looking in from the outside, these celebrations tend to viewed through a distorting prism that make them appear over-the-top and classless.
At the newspaper I worked at before where more bitter rivalries encompassed the readership area, I would intermittently receive calls from fans, parents, coaches, administrators and even athletes themselves voicing suggestions about doing a story or a heavy-handed op-ed exposing the poor sportsmanship that was thrown in their face due to the other team breaking into their victory dance with little regard for the vanquished still drying their tears.
Probably the most egregious offense — according to the sportsmanship police — is often done at the end of tournaments and league championships in youth baseball and softball. It’s when the winning team takes the championship banner for a victory lap around the field.
Withstanding cases where taunting is involved, often the only unsportsmanlike acts around these displays are done by those sniveling about them.
Telling young and budding athletes that they should celebrate their victories is among the best advice a coach, clinician or educator could ever give, crybabies be damned.
Though athletics, especially at the scholastic level, greatly serve as an extra classroom and can prepare one for the challenges and rigors of life even in areas where things are not enumerated in a cut-and-dried fashion on a scoreboard, you should always strive to win even when you’re the overwhelming underdog. To just go through the motions cheats yourself as well as your teammates of what can be optimally attained through participating in sports.
To be lucky and/or good enough to legitimately classify yourself and your mates as winners should always invoke celebration. It further provides the motivation to do the necessary work and acts to attain more victories and achievements for more reasons to celebrate in the future. And just as important, these celebrations create stronger and lasting bonds between teammates and others who have contributed to the successful cause.
After a major victory spearheaded by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin gave a speech to the festive troops.
“Remember this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, ‘I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!’ For it is the doom of men that they forget.”
So celebrate your victories. You too, Green Bay Packers fans.
Just keep your distance.