We care about sport. But we care about athletes as well! Current trends in many national sports competitions, especially in small countries, are threatening to fail the basic message of sport that de Coubertin picked up from the Bishop during the London 1908 games: »The most important thing is not to win but to take part!«
Let us provide you with the perspective that competition is just a form of cooperation. In order to play the game, the opponent is a structural requirement. You need the other side in order to establish your side. You need friends of sport on both sides, and that is why sport competition is appealing. Participation is a voluntary act in order to make sport competition ultimately possible. It is about consensus on the rules of sport and on the values of play. But once this is established, once the competition begins, one often fails to remember the basic motives for entering the world of sport.
Regardless of the level of engagement, one should keep in mind those basic motives that lie outside the sport competition itself. They are important for understanding the role of sport in society. They are important before and after the game, and they reveal the true nature of the athletes, providing them with a personal meaning of competing.
The message we wish to deliver is that competing too young deprives the youth from this outer perspective. This might be good for sport in the short term, since they are ready to »play their guts out«. But in the long term, just when they should be fired-up to peak, they face psychological burnout, and the loss of meaning in sport.
Psychologists claim that children do not develop the capacities to distinguish between virtues of personality and personal skills before the age of 12. It means that when they lose the element of competition, when they do not meet the expectations of coach and parents, they interpret this as a personal failure. This is why sports competition should not take place under the age of 12. Or, moreover, they should be promoting personal achievement, and skill learning, without final ranking of the results. What is your view?
Dr. Milan Hosta, Director
International Institute for Sustainable Development, Diplomacy, and Policy in Sport