For far too long, our sports teams have been underperforming. Football fans like to boast that the Premier League is the best league in the football world. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t depict the real situation. All the Premier League should brag about is its spending power. How can the best league in football be home to one of the most under-achieving national teams in the world? When was the last time we won an international trophy? When was the last time we had an English player who was truly world class? In Tennis, we have Andy Murray, a scot, who trained in Spain, win Wimbledon; even after that, has he ever been the favourite to win it again? No. In rugby, what happened to us since 2003? Why are we never consistently challenging the world’s best? Most recently, this has been highlighted during England’s performance in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
We like to think we’re up with the best, but we’re not. Psychologically, as a nation we are not winners. We don’t have a killer instinct any more. The hunger in our sporting world is gone. It has been beaten out of us by the ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ attitude. From a young age we are constantly told, “don’t be arrogant”, “competition is bad”. Twinned the new entitlement generation that has arisen, less sportsmen from a young age are willing to fight and succeed with their rivals. If you get everything handed to you on a plate, why challenge yourself?
Are we honestly surprised we don’t win competitions anymore? Why are we the nation of ‘Gracious losers’, instead of the ‘Three Lions out for Blood and Glory’?
The answer is obvious: competition, or lack of.
Since the 90s, competition within schools and across the board has been a dirty word. The majority of the blame lies with our new culture of liberal equality, where our politicians and the liberal majority followed the United States’ new wave of thinking such as ‘no child should lose’ coupled with the U.S.’s legislation like the ‘No Child Left Behind Act.’ After this competitive sport in the U.K. was doomed; it was the new idea that children were not allowed to experience loss, disappointment or success. Mediocrity was the goal, illustrated by no competition within schools in exam scores or sports, with the majority having to go at the pace of the slowest (in every sense of the word).
As ever, the establishment never bothered to look at the long term effects. The consequences of these ideologies are not restricted to sport in England, but have caused mediocrity across the board. Our education stature within the world league is falling, highly qualified employees are becoming a rare occurrence with employers having to search in other countries to find suitable supply. Nothing highlights this better than the phoney economic recovery we’re supposedly in.
Rare success at elite levels of sport such as the 2003 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics happened in spite of this strangle-hold, not because of it. In an interview with Sky News in 2014, Rebecca Adlington said: “I started swimming competitively when I was 11 and yet my education was very important to me and it made me focus more in class, I had more energy, I was able to focus and learnt time management from an early age and for me sport had given me much more than those Olympic medals”.
In independent schools, such as Fearnhill School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, the importance of competition is also understood, of which the gold medal Olympian Victoria Pendleton was a former student. Head of P.E. Simon Lawrence said: “Participation is important but I think that that the drive to win is crucial and it’s transferable into other areas of life … job interviews, exam results.”
By following these liberal ideologies, state schools prevent their students from being able to compete with the independent alternatives in all aspects of life. Competition instils character, success, learning, self-improvement; it enables children to recognise individual strengths and weaknesses but most importantly, it creates winners. Competition in schools will improve their performance, students’ abilities and reputations. Winners and success would be the norm.
The fact remains, successful sportsmen and women have always been competitive. If we tell our future generations that competition is bad, you cannot still expect that generation to have a successful sporting legacy. We can either be losers, or winners. At the moment, we are choosing to be losers.