The Value of the Struggle

Mar 14, 2011
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Success in sports enriches our lives and provides us a sense of accomplishment when we achieve our goals.  The thrill of a race finished, a goal that has been scored, or the completion of a task that was considered too difficult spurs us on to ever greater sporting ambitions.But we do not get always get what we would like from sport. Setbacks and disappointments are part of the sporting experience too. When this occurs, one of the most common phrases that I hear from my young students is the declaration:“the teams are not fair!” These students appraise the abilities of their opponents and make a quick determination that the competition may not be just because of differences in size, height, experience, talent, etc. Their assumption is that fairness must mean equal and that the athletes in each team must have the same amounts of skill and talent; as if this is something that can be easily measured and divided.  When the game is played and the result is not favourable, some students invoke the logic that “they only won because the teams were not fair!” This line of thinking tends to bring out passionate responses, if not argumentative behaviour, from some players; should this dialogue be countered or just accepted as part of sport?

In discussions about sport and fairness, I ask my students to consider if there is any value in struggling to achieve a certain goal. If there was no challenge, or the possibility of defeat, just a guarantee of success everytime we play, would the sport be fun? With guided conversations, I try to steer my student’s thoughts toward the counter intuitive logic that sometimes we can learn more from a setback than a success. I use the example of a math puzzle to further this point. The greatest value of a puzzle does necessarily come from a quick and easy answer but from the mind exploring, analyzing, creating and even rejecting different solutions. The process is as important as the product.

As parents, we naturally embrace the biological imperative of protecting our young from harm, but should this also extend to adversity? Should we think of sports as a safe way of providing positive adversity – something that gives us the opportunity to test and develop our character?

I think that sometimes an assumption is made that the sports experience for special needs athletes need to be sanitized of all difficult social situations or anything that might be challenging to the athlete’s emotional well-being. And yet to do so will deny them the chance to build character and their resilience. Even Shakespeare knew the importance of adversity in our lives writing that “pain pays the income of each precious thing.”

Author: Gary Barber



  • BobLujano

    Remember the experience of the struggle of the journey is more valuable than the prize at the end.