THE 19th century wit Oscar Wilde once made an interesting statement: “You can never be over-dressed or over-educated.” This was the man who is reported to have said when passing through Immigration: “I have nothing to declare, but my genius.” In a different arena and era, Lance Armstrong was also seen to be a genius — he won seven consecutive Tour de France cycling titles after he had recovered from cancer. He perhaps showed his genius also with a statement that he made in the midst of his record-breaking performances when he is reported to have commented that “The problem is that we over-celebrate when we win and we over-react when we lose.”
school of sport with TIM MIDDLETON
It is certainly true that all too often we over-celebrate when we win (note that there is nothing wrong with celebrating, we must just not over-celebrate). We make too big a deal of winning or scoring. Yes, we may have won a match, even a trophy, even an election, but that is all we have done — yet we make it out to be earth-shattering and life-changing.
We even over-celebrate when we score a goal or try or point, pumping our fists in the air, screaming “Come on”, pointing to our name on the back of our shirt, sliding along the ground on our tummy or knees, and going through all sorts of dance or acting moves — and all we have done is score a goal or try or point. Is that not our job, what we are there to do? Do secretaries run down the corridor screaming, “come on?” Do architects stand in the front office with arms held aloft pointing to themselves when they have drawn another plan? Do dentists pump their arms when they extract a tooth?
If we invite our boss for a meal and he compliments our wife for a lovely meal she will not run round the dining-room with arms out to the side and dive into the kitchen to slide along the floor —rather, she will most likely say, “Thank you, it’s my pleasure; I’m glad you liked it.” So, when we wish to celebrate some venture we would be well-advised to keep our perspective, be grateful and be glad that we have brought pleasure to others. Yes, we scored a goal — yes, we won a match —but that is what was expected of us. So, let’s go out and do it again, as we are intended to do, with humility and respect.
We are equally prone to over-react when we lose. When we lose we are inclined to rant and rave, blame everyone possible, and allow a red mist to cover our eyes as we get angry — we push, shove, point, shout and swear instead of accepting it, learning from it, moving on from it. It is ironic, but not surprising that players often react to their defeat or loss or lack of “success” by blaming everyone else — they complain that the referee missed a clear penalty that should have been awarded to them, but they will not mention the clear penalty that the referee should have awarded against them. It is our biggest failing that we do not know how to lose and we do not teach people how to do that.
But there is another “over” that we should not over-look, an “over” that over-reaches even over-celebrating and over-reacting — that is over-competitiveness. Competitiveness is good and necessary (that is why schools play sporting fixtures, to help youngsters learn to become competitive), but when it leads to us having to win at everything (an argument, an election, traffic queue, an affection) or at all costs (cheating, threatening, fixing, bribing, taunting, abusing), then we have lost all hope. Over-competitiveness is when we allow anything that undermines the dignity of any other person (player, official, spectator, school or nation) or the values of the school or sport or nation. Lance Armstrong who made that telling remark above sadly displayed his over-competitiveness by taking performance-enhancing drugs — for years he not only denied taking them, but even bullied or sued people who said that he did take them. He, the very one who warned us that we are prone to over-celebrate and over-react, over-stepped the mark with his over-competitiveness.
George Best, the hugely-talented, but over-indulged soccer player of the eighties, admitted that “I was born with a great gift, and sometimes with that comes a destructive streak. Just as I wanted to outdo everyone when I played, I had to outdo everyone when we were out on the town.”
Lance Armstrong also tried to outdo everyone else. The over-competitive streak leads us also to have to win everything. We cannot over-educate our children by ensuring they understand the right way to compete, to celebrate and to react. Otherwise it will definitely be a case of “Over and Out”, finished, the end — and that is no laughing matter.
Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org