A health check on perspective in sport

A healthy perspective is not just about doing the right thing or living some kind of overtly wholesome existence. Keeping perspective helps you make better choices. You avoid making dangerous and damaging decisions to your health, life and general well being.

You’re almost inevitably going to lose in sport, so you might as well accept it and then think through carefully why you’re involved. To make a living? Fun? Winning? Because you’re good at it? Fitness and health? Social interaction?

Any or all are good reasons to participate in sport, but excessive focus in one area is likely to leave you feeling hollow and unsatisfied a lot of the time. Perspective is the key.

Almost everyone is a loser (in a good way)

There are not too many David Rudisha’s out there. I wondered how the finalists in the London Olympic 800m felt? I think everyone in the race ran a personal best, very fast performances, but no doubt some of them felt like failures because they didn’t win a medal. I hope I’m wrong, what an astonishing experience to be part of.

If you don’t win you’re no good

You could see it last year at the 2012 London Olympics. Australian swimmers gushing tears of shame because they lost Gold and only earned a Silver Medal.They felt like failures. Such failures that they made it to the Olympics and were the second best human on the planet in that event.

Are we seeing a loss of perspective here?

Do you have private silver medal moments where second place isn’t good enough? It’s easy to forget how individual failure can be considered outrageous success by another.

Do we want to be so unforgiving on ourselves that we lose all enjoyment of the rewarding pastime of running or sport in general? Whether you’re aiming to try and beat your best time down at your community Park Run or compete at the Olympics, understand and then keep a firm grip on why you’re there.

Integrity and honesty

It’s not been a few good years for the integrity of sport in general. The are symptoms of win at all costs thinking everywhere you look.

Athletes at every level, even children are cramming potentially banned and dangerous substances into their bodies so they can be winners or look a certain way.

Lack of respect for officials, not accepting the umpires decision and generally not being a good sport at the highest level is rife. It’s only a game and supposed to be fun right?

Then there’s EPO, blood doping, steroids and stimulants to get you up and running.

Stawell Gift Heat Start 2012

Supplements versus food

And if you think your favourite post gym shake is safe and legal just because the label didn’t list any spurious ingredients you might need to think again. A recent report on the Australian National broadcaster’s science program Catalyst was troubling and should be compulsory viewing for all athletes, coaches and especially parents.

Click here to view the ABC Catalyst Report Doping to Win.

What is in the tub that’s not listed on the label? Is it safe for growing bodies?

Food is suddenly so last century.

Weird sports science

There seems to be many smart individuals out there trawling the scientific literature for substances and medications that were designed to do one thing, but may have performance enhancing spin-off benefits. If they can discover them before WADA they might even have a technically legal performance enhancing substance on their hands.

Some of these substances are not even approved for human use. What if they gave you cancer or had other long term implications for your health? Would you trade that for the potential that it improved your performance in some way?

Sadly many athletes will take the risk, or worse, not even be aware that there is a risk. Anyone considering dabbling in ‘popular’ drugs such as peptides should watch this video for a fantastic summary of the risks involved.


Family Doctors can help you be boss

General practitioners and family doctors need to be consulted much more by parents and athletes. Recent examples show that you’d be unwise to place your faith in high performance experts provided by your coach, team or sporting federation.

If I’m healthy and have a good diet my Family Doctor should be able to confirm if I’m lacking in particular areas and decide with me whether I need supplements or medication.

Sure my Doctor may need to consult with specialists, but I’d rather put my health and well being in the hands of someone who is not conflicted by the demands of performance.

There are too many examples of high performance experts treating the athlete and not the person. Your family Doctor should and will put you first, they have the knowledge and training to interpret complex advice and help flag any potential issues with what you’ve been told or advised.

Do you really want to be a fake?

There’s always been a lot of cheating when it comes to sport. Faking it is hard work, damaging to health and the soul. You can see the damage done when athletes show such relief in finally coming clean. Compete fairly and with head held high.

I cheated a couple of times in minor sports as a teenager, I still feel bad about it. I’d be a nervous wreak if I cheated to win at the Olympics.

A couple of tweets from Richard Dawkins about general lack of fair play in cricket summed it up brilliantly.

Is cheating a form self loathing?

I sometimes wonder if the need to win at all costs is symptomatic of other gaps in our lives? Champions often rise up out of adversity. Being smacked around psychologically or physically is a powerful motivator to get things done and prove your worth.

Always trying to balance the ledger on the times in your life you’ve been told or circumstances have implied that you’re no good.

There’s plenty of people and products around that prosper by tapping into this lack of self worth and our desperate need to win or confirm to societal expectations or norms.


Cheats are saying unless I win I am worthless. Your worth outside side of sporting pursuits needs to be constantly nourished. There is more to life than running fast or kicking the winning goal.

If that’s all you seem to have then it’s time to start exploring a world of rich possibilities.

At peace with losing to cheats

Unfortunately many elite athletes need to find some kind of peace with the fact that they will always be competing against cheats. Not easy.

Consolation might  be found in competing fairly but also knowing you’re not doing anything that might damage your future health, not to mention your reputation.

Conclusion: objectivity is the key

We know that the driven among us tend to succeed in our chosen disciplines – there’s no denying it and I don’t want anyone to lose that irrepressible spirit to push yourself that little bit harder.

But too much of a good thing can quickly become destructive. Try to maintain a sense of objectivity when evaluating the achievement of your goals. If you’re having frequent bouts of silver medal tears it might be time for a perspective check.

Words and images by

For those interested in sports science and medicine check out these Sports Science principles put together by the Australian Institute of Sport.

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3 Responses to A health check on perspective in sport

  1. Matthew Thomas July 18, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Interesting that you should quote Richard Dawkins of all people (on this issue of winning/cheating/fair play), who amongst other things have also said the following… “…In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

    Yes, cheating is wrong, but on what grounds does Dr Dawkins have to say otherwise – except subjective opinion or just… “pitiless indifference”… within a “survival of the fittest”/win at all cost paradigm.

    • Brian July 18, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      G’day Matthew, I don’t really have a strong opinion on Dawkins either way but I liked the sentiments as they relate to this issue which was cheating in sport. He just summed it up better than I could in this instance.

      • Matthew Thomas July 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

        G’day Brian. That’s fine. Just thought I highlight one of Dawkins’ past views on associated areas pertaining to life/fairness/evil/good (i.e. the inconsistencies thereof).