We just don't need to tell the world

By Dianne Lishman

2 comments
Marcus Agnew
Marcus Agnew

HOW often do we hear it? "Our sports people are too soft" or "They haven't got that mental toughness when it counts".

Of course, you only hear that sort of stuff when we lose and I never seem to hear such comments about the opposition.

The typical one we hear is "we need to be hard-nosed like the Australians", or worse still, "arrogant like the Americans".

For me, I couldn't disagree more. It's simply a case of the grass is always greener. The natural tendency is to look at others and think they are doing it better.

But it's ridiculous; how much evidence do we need? How many absolutely ruthless and tough competitors have we had, that also happen to be humble and respectful?

We Kiwis can be tough and competitive, and we have as much self-belief as anyone - we just don't feel the need to tell the world about it - and we should be proud of that fact, and celebrate the way we are.

It's one of the great things about sport in our country, our development systems teach such great values, and you could see it coming through in many of our athletes' interviews during the Olympics. We don't need to tell to the world "Yeah - I am the man!" chest pumping our team-mates and ignoring our opponents.

I like the attitude of our Kiwi sportspeople, and it's even rubbing off on some of the other countries. The Aussie supporters are starting to realise you don't have to be an arrogant "so and so" to win - their cricket fans became quite embarrassed by the contrasting attitudes of their team vs our Black Caps.

Sport, and recreation, is great for the general development of our youth. Athlete development is so much more than just a physical thing, it's the knowledge that attaining success requires clear goals and dedication to achieve them; life skills, consistent routines and humility.

Part of that humility is obviously respecting the opposition, and what they can bring, which in turns brings the best out of oneself. Furthermore, the sport itself can be unfair, even cruel, just like life itself - and so sport prepares us to deal with adversity. For all the medals we achieved, we had many more that didn't reach their dreams, but the hard lessons and coping mechanisms they learn, set them up for life.

It is often said we need more of that arrogance - which is a big part of American sports psychology - but I'm not so sure.

The sight of Michael Phelps climbing up onto the swimming lane after winning yet another gold, calling the camera in so he can staunchly stare down the barrel of the lens, saying "I am the man, and I own each and every one of you in this pool!".

Many of us get a bit tired of that; I even feel embarrassed as a man ... I mean, why would you do that? Where does it stop ... "The greatest fire department in the world" ... "the greatest police department in the world"; I mean wow, how is everyone else supposed to react to that?

Thankfully the Americans have finally decided to reprimand their women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, who went on a mad rant in the press conference after her team's loss to Sweden, calling the Swedish a "bunch of cowards" for their tactically smart approach which knocked the Americans out of the tournament - what an unfortunate impression to give to the world.

And with all the poor coverage the Brazilians had in the lead-up to the Olympics, the last thing their tourism industry needed was false accusations of police brutality - but in the last couple of days of the Olympics, that's exactly what they got, from the highly paid and privileged American swimmer, Ryan Lochte.

It needs to be remembered that much of the success of the top countries is not due to them having any special gifts, but more due to the well-functioning health and athletic development programmes their society has established (and some population helps - about 320 million in the US's case). As talented as many of the people in Syria will be, the last thing on their mind at the moment will be developing sporting abilities.

So no, you don't have to be arrogant - we have had many athletes achieve greatness while remaining humble. We keep looking at the Aussies and think we have to be more like them, but I get sick of hearing it, it's a myth. What the hell is wrong with being humble and respecting the other competitors, so long as you still have that underlying toughness?

Sure there will be times where we haven't mentally been at our best, but that is the same for all countries, and isn't just symptomatic of our culture.

Take a look at our Rio gold medallists - they prove you actually don't have to be an arrogant so and so to win. Bond and Murray; Mahe; Lisa Carrington; Tuke and Burling - all winners, and doing it with class; with respect, what better role models could you ask for?

Hopefully the Kiwis' performance, and attitude, at the Olympics has put that old "we Kiwis need to be tougher" chestnut to bed. Our top athletes have a great attitude to sport. They can be ruthless, and brutal if required, but all the while respectful and humble - long may it last. Let's celebrate the way we are, and I hope we never get swayed to change.

-Marcus Agnew leads Talent Development and the Pathway to Podium for AUT Millennium Hawke's Bay. He is also a lecturer in sports science at EIT.

-Business and civic leaders, organisers, experts in their field and interest groups can contribute opinions. Views expressed here are the writer's personal opinion, and not the newspaper's. Email editor@hbtoday.co.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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