I thought it would end in tears

I thought it would all end in tears. There would be an inquest on why ‘we’ hadn’t performed as well as expected in 2012 after all the investment and lottery funding for sport – but, you see, I’m English – we thrive on disappointment, we are humbled by success. Not quite the done thing to win (all the time). Well, how wrong can you be? Team GB has excelled. What might it achieve with a more competitive attitude in schools, compared with the present approach where no-one is allowed to win or lose?

Top level athletes have not been sheltered from the disappointment of losing. Quite the opposite. It is that disappointment that drives them to improve and not to lose, but, at the same time, learn to accept defeat and the challenge to do better next time. And when they do succeed – what elation and emotion it can create – and not just in the athletes themselves. The energy, effort, dedication and determination is recognised by everyone witnessing the contest. The spectators’ exhilaration is not restricted to the athletes they have come to support or from their own country. The effort required to achieve success is apparent to all, and we all respond with respect, admiration and, perhaps, a tear. Quite incredible!

What generates such powerful emotions from these fleeting moments of triumph (and disaster) when we should ‘treat those two imposters just the same’ – because imposters they are. For all the joy of winning (and despair of losing) tomorrow’s result may be quite different. Winning doesn’t mean best, except for that one moment. Winning is often by the smallest margin (I think .1 of a second is a dead-heat) yet the elation for the winner is not diminished in the slightest. What if we could all generate that enthusiasm, elation and inspiration from the jobs we do, and strive to do better tomorrow because today there was no success?

Why would we want to deprive children of this powerful tool – the ability to enjoy and to create such emotion for themselves and others, and learn to accept that losing is just a part of winning? The taking part is just as important as the winning. One depends on the other. Not much to get excited about if the winner is the only contestant. Surely this is what children should be taught, and what they should experience. If we ‘protect’ or ‘shelter’ them from the disappointment of losing, we also deprive them of the pleasure of winning – and improving – and inspiring others to do likewise.

Sport, at the highest level, may always be elitest – by its nature it must be selective and recognise that not everyone will have the aptitude or willingness to progress. Perhaps this also applies to education generally? The opportunity to participate and become part of that elite will be available to everyone only if competition, winning and losing are part of every child’s education – not only for sport, but for life.