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Success – A Double Edged Sword 

As winter approaches and the sporting seasons evolve, I find myself reflecting on the tremendous summer of sport that has now passed; a summer that included European Football championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Ryder Cup. These were in addition to the normal annual events that included Tennis, Motor racing, Cricket and the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championships. Therefore for anyone interested in sport, there was plenty to choose from, watch and celebrate.

Whilst it has been an exciting time to watch the remarkable achievements of so many world class performers across the broad spectrum of sporting excellence, there is one particular moment that I find myself thinking about frequently that, to me exemplifies another side of sport that we frequently neglect or do not think of. It occurred on the day that the aircraft carrying the British Olympic team arrived back at London Heathrow Airport to be greeted by hordes of well-wishers and the media. All of the focus was, predictably, at the front end of the aircraft where all of the medal winners descended the steps to the waiting journalists, cameras and interviews. It was something that was expected and well deserved. However, what I found most poignant and sobering was what was happening at the other end of the aircraft. There, all of the other athletes, who had not been successful, were descending from the plane and quietly being escorted into the terminal buildings where they could, at last, meet up with their own relatives and friends, who must also have been looking forward to seeing them again.

This one scene clearly demonstrated the contrasting sides of sport. It also showed how success is celebrated and failure ignored. It also made me wonder how those athletes travelling back at the rear end of the plane felt, whilst their successful colleagues were lauded at the other end. Also, what their emotions, commitment and motivation would be, as they descended away from the glare of the lights and media.

This whole episode also made me ask whether we actually prepare our sports people to cope with failure and disappointment or only focus on the success and glory that every athlete and performer should strive to achieve. As someone who has been involved in sport for over 30 years, I know that it is the latter that has always been the most important focus. It has also been the goal that I hoped the athletes, players and competitors that I have been associated with, have worked towards. However, after seeing this scene and more recently becoming more aware of the increasing number of mental health issues that are now recognised within sport and retired sports people, I really do now wonder if this is an area that we should focus on much more.  After all, as members of the sports medicine team, we do have a duty of care to every sports person we treat, not only physically but psychologically too. 

Professor Graham N.Smith

Posted: November 11 2016
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