For as long as I can remember some in the sporting world have felt compelled to perpetuate a deeply held misnomer that sport is akin to war. As a young boy, I thought nothing of it and even relished in the notion that I was as tough as a solider. Now, as an adult, I’ve realized that comparison serves no one.
Truthfully, I get it. I mean, who doesn’t right? In war as in sport you have opposing sides. It’s understood that both of those sides are trying to win, obviously. Both use battlefield to describe the location upon which the opposing forces compete. The analogies are endless. However, to suggest that when an athlete steps out onto their battlefield that they are making the same level of commitment and sacrifice as a soldier stepping onto theirs is absurd, self-righteous and insulting.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
As coaches, when we use war as a way to showcase the commitment and sacrifice we expect from our athletes we do so to the detriment of sport. I see war as humankind’s lowest expression of that which we are capable. It is to say that we will do anything in our power to kill our competitors if that enables us to win in a game. A GAME! My guess, you’d be hard-pressed to find any member of a reputable sporting organization that would condone that sentiment.
In 1943, at the age of 18 my dad and his best friend at the time joined the Canadian Navy. For the next two years, they chased Hitler’s U-boats throughout the North Atlantic—my dad on a corvette, his friend on a battleship.
Fast forward to the 1970’s when my school projects required the opinions and experiences of WWII veterans and, naturally, I turned to my dad. Trouble was he didn’t like to talk about his experiences as a teen during the war.
For one, he lost that best friend. And, two, my mom believes that as he travelled through life’s milestones—marriage, children, anniversary’s, etc… he was reminded of the moments the young men that he helped kill during the war weren’t having. Take a moment and let that one settle in.
During the times that I sat down with him to discuss the war there was no bravado, no sharing of hardship and battles won or lost. He was mainly indifferent. Yes, he was proud of answering the call of duty that so many of his young peers did at the time, but he didn’t wear it as a badge of honour. It was simply something that he did because he felt compelled to do so at the time.
Recently, a well-known hockey site posted a video that compared hockey to war. Typos aside, it’s a slick production. Images of talented NHL hockey players engaged in…. well, the game of hockey. There are exciting scenes of impressive playmaking—skilled passing and goals made. Sadly as well, you have some unfortunate video of coaches swearing and yelling obscenities at their players in locker rooms. And, of course, worst of all you have slow motion fighting with close-ups of the carnage that follows. Combine that with dramatic music, some explosive and telling sound-bites and you have a video that sells hockey as brutal, offensive and barbaric.
“As a coach, I’ve always believed that bravado is the poor cousin of self-doubt.”
What is it about the character of some individuals in sport that seem to be constantly building up sporting competitions to be more than they are… a game. A rhetorical question—yes, I suppose. However, it is the macho element of sport that makes it so unappealing for so many. We get it. To play sports you have to be tough—whatever you want to make that mean. So what? Hockey players are tough. So are football players. Same with rugby. Cross-country skiers. Swimmers. Middle-distance runners. Soccer players—okay, maybe not soccer players. Kidding. But, you get my point.
There are lots of people in the world, athletes or otherwise, who struggle with lives that require them to be tough. But, they don’t scream at the top of their lungs… LOOK AT ME, I’M TOUGH! They just keep moving forward—as they must.
When coaches publicly misrepresent sport as war they help foster the wrong message and take the focus off of the many opportunities for learning and self-expression that sport facilitates.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the need to sell sport as a war comes from the egoic mind. As I’ve shared before, when we rely on our ego for important decisions it almost always leads us astray. Selling sport as war appeals to the lowest form of human attraction.
Simply put, war is destructive. Conversely, sport is recreation—its root being create or build. Therefore, we should be celebrating the opportunities for what sport builds in all of us. Character. Discipline. Friendship. Trust. Confidence. Health. The list is long.
How timely as Remembrance Day approaches that we have this occasion to challenge an archaic belief such as this one. Sport has the ability to inspire us. To move us. To unite us. To be an example of all that’s good in us. The next time you hear sport likened to war, perhaps take the opportunity to ask how that comparison serves sport, it’s athletes and coaches, and even our Veterans. As coaches, we all have the responsibility to ensure sport is represented as the powerfully and positive influencing force that it can be.
Photo credit: unknown.
Jason Dorland is a High-Perfomance Coach who believes the most undervalued and underutilized components of reaching our goals are the mental and emotional areas of our lives. With your commitment, Jason can help you make a positive difference in how you approach your life’s dreams and goals. Guaranteed! To find out how—contact Jason today!
In sport, school. music, the arts and our children’s other endeavors, we encourage them to always do their best. However, since war is people at their worst (despite tales of gallantry, bravery etc that occur under duress) it would be impossible to “Try your best”. In that sense, sport can never be like war and we should stop treating it so.
This is a great blog Jas! Why is that hockey players only shake hands when a team is eliminated in the playoffs? Is it a time factor? You see NFL players shaking hands and saying hi to past teammates after their games and they have had a lot of physical contact! All those hard tackles etc and they seem to be able to put that aside and be good sports. Hockey – love the skill – do not like the fighting or checks intended to hurt someone! And we still call the Oilers vs Flames game the Battle of Alberta!