Is it really the taking part that counts? #OlympicDay

“On this date back in 1894, the modern Olympic Games were born…”

What I learned at a Junior School Sports Day…

It’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts.

In the past – even in the very recent past – when I’ve heard this phrase I’ve shuddered, shaken my head and felt inner frustration and annoyance. ‘Of course it’s the winning that counts’, shouts my competitive self.

So why today did I found myself uttering the unutterable? “They did so well, they should all be awarded participation medals!”

Participation medals?
Participation medals?

Yes, I know! Am I crazy? Participation medals? Please, give me a moment to explain and a chance to earn back my respect. Even the P.E. teacher who’d taught me since the age of 11 stepped back bemused. I too, shocked at myself, laughed off my suggestion as absurd. But then, I couldn’t quite let go of this bizarre suggestion of mine. And I again returned to the conclusion…

It really is the taking part that counts! When I watched these little students run around the grass track for their sports day races, they did so unashamedly, urged on by a team-spirit, determination and passion that you don’t often see in adults participating in sport. They found the fun in each event they competed in, and “I can’t compete because of X, Y, Z…” excuses were non-existent. They competed even if they knew they weren’t the best and may not have been able to win gold – because it was a team effort, and they focused on the enjoyment of the day rather than the medals at the end. They were process-driven rather than outcome-oriented. The process of digging deep, giving it their all and participating wholeheartedly gave them joy; the outcome had no factor in determining whether they finished each race with a smile on their faces!

The Olympic Games...the pinnacle of a sportsperson's career.
The Olympic Games…the pinnacle of a sportsperson’s career.

And although the Olympic Games certainly presents a picture of elitism, success at the highest levels, and the pinnacle of a sportsperson’s career, it also represents the coming together of kindred spirits focused on competing first and foremost against themselves, unswervingly committed to taking part and pushing themselves beyond perceived personal limits, and to keep going whether they win or lose.

Because, in a blog soon to be published, yet unwritten, Curtis Beach tells me, life can be tough ‘when you define success as winning and losing…’ If you were to join him in defining success as ‘personal growth’ and ‘pushing your boundaries’, even when you are not victorious, the fact you have taken part and stretched yourself will be a success in itself. I believe this partly embodies what the Olympic Games and Olympic Day is all about.

They represent the five different areas of the world involved in the Olympics. They strive for greater participation.
The Olympic rings represent the five different areas of the world involved in the Olympics. The message: strive for greater participation.

One of the original tenets of the Modern Olympic Games was inclusivity. The Olympics naturally evolves to reflect these core values, now including a Winter Olympics, Paralympic Games, and Youth Olympic Games to incorporate more sports, athletes with disabilities and younger athletes. This call for greater participation in sport, even at the most elite level, was further illustrated at the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’: the London 2012 Olympic Games, through the debut of ‘preliminaries’ in the short sprints.

The concept successfully introduced by the IAAF at last year’s World Championships enables those countries who have no athletes with Olympic qualifying standards in any event to enter them (one man; one woman) in this innovative 100m round, giving them the opportunity to qualify for the first of the main 3 rounds. (Source here)

How about that? You don’t have a qualification standard, yet you can still take part? I’m sure these athletes were happy to rub shoulders with the greats in their event (including multiple World Record Holder, Usain Bolt), and they surely enjoyed every minute of this novel opportunity!

You don't have a qualification standard yet you can still take part?
You don’t have a qualification standard yet you can still take part?

And, I’m not disputing the importance of striving for victory, but when we continually disregard the significance of participation, and favour victory above everything, it threatens to make people – particularly young, impressionable ones, afraid of taking part not just in sport, but in other essential areas of life! So, I won’t be advocating the handing out of participation medals, that’s for sure. But I’ll certainly reconsider my stance on participation and winning. How about you?


Food for thought (wise words from a wise woman): “I really do love them at this age (year 3), they’re just so willing to participate; they have no insecurities!”
What will it take to get you back to the pure enjoyment of taking part? It doesn’t have to be athletics! It can be pottery, drawing, writing, public speaking, roller skating, swimming, further education, apprenticeships, and the list goes on… Don’t be afraid, shy or worried about what other people will say! Just get involved!

#OlympicDay

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