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Embarrass yourself now, compete later

Encouraging healthy competition is fine, but encouraging young people to be active, try events, and not be embarrassed to go for a fun run has far more potential for positive impacts. (Megan Kanerahtenha:wi Whyte, The Eastern Door)

Racers for health is today.

Let’s listen to the title of the event again: racers for health. 

The event is incredible for any who’ve watched or participated. Spectators get to see all ages run their hearts out and be active. The goal is to run for health. 

Simple right?

The FNEC Games sees hundreds of Onkwehón:we youth participate in a variety of sports every year, giving 10-18-year-olds the chance to socialize with each other, while organizers promote “awareness-raising activities to promote healthy lifestyle habits and provide youths with academic and vocational information.”

That sounds nice.

Wait.

Why is this an editorial?

The reason is simple: these fun events far too often degrade into over-competitive contests full to toxic energy directed at young people, volunteer coaches, and, of course, the volunteer and often young people officiating sports.

Eastern Door sports reporters (this author included) are at many of these events and see first-hand the abuse coaches face, tears kids cry and incredibly inappropriate vitriol lobbed at refs or opponents from the stands.

Parents and teachers have told this reporter that some elementary school students will not participate in the Racers for Health because they don’t want to lose or look bad.

Competition is part of sports. 

This is obvious and accepted, but one shouldn’t miss the point that events like the FNEC Games, Racers for Health, and NAIG are not the Stanley Cup Finals, Olympics or World Cup. 

Competing and trying to win is fine; intense pressure, verbal abuse and discouraging the less athletic from giving the sport a try is not.

Young athletes gain much more from encouragement, learning about rules and figuring out how to play the sport, as well as meeting other athletes than they do from being berated by a grown up for dropping a ball or coming in 28th in a fun run.

They can also learn other important life lessons like discipline and behaviour while playing sports. 

A hockey coach, for example, may bench a young player who is misbehaving or acting inappropriately on the rink.  This should be considered a learning lesson for the player. However, coaches have told reporters that some parents scream at them afterwards because their child didn’t play as much as other players. That coach, who donated after-school hours for most of the year to develop the team, was trying to, you know, coach (for free) and now leaves the game remembering how little his or her service in developing a young athlete is valued.

Oh, and those medals.

Earning a medal is of course a great thing; same goes for rings, trophies, wreaths, chalices, broaches, rubies and the Infinity Gauntlet. They are all, however, just shiny prizes whose dates never change. Next year there will be more medals. 

Winning prizes should not be the reason anyone runs the Mohawk Miles, for instance, or participates in a fun run. Finishing off the podium means you competed and finished, and there is value in that no matter what any hater says.

Anyone who’s participated in the local group The Runners (this writer included) will feel a different kind of vibe when meeting at the cenotaph Mondays or Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. 

Coach Mia Phillips encourages everyone to go at their own pace, set realistic goals and enjoy themselves. Guess what? Everyone does. 

She, like any quality coach, is constantly encouraging personal bests, and never pushes anyone to go too far. 

You’ll never guess what the result is.

…but you should. 

People love the group and develop a love for running, often participating in competitive runs on their own. 

How much more long-term positivity and health benefits result from this love of athletics than a medal from the glory days?

Healthy living, exercise and sport are all good things, but they can be soiled quickly by over-competitiveness, pressure and obsession with being Number 1.

I will take a short interlude to bring a personal story into this editorial.

About 10 laps (500M) into the 750M-swim portion of the Chateauguay Triathlon Sunday, I noticed something. I couldn’t hear anymore splashing. I realized, through gasping breaths, I was the last, THE LAST, swimmer in the pool, and I still had five laps to go (250 metres). I was completely out of breath and exhausted. I splashed my way through the laps, got on my bike, rode 20K before running five. I knew I couldn’t swim well before the race, but thought there would be other beginners at the race, which there were not. 

You know what? 

I finished last, got a medal and ice cream sandwich, and went home feeling good knowing that I completed a triathlon. I did a marathon last year, and placed well near the bottom. People may hear that and think it embarrassing, but those people probably never ran a marathon or did a triathlon. Why is it embarrassing to try something you may not excel at?
It is just a game. It’s just a run. It’s just a swim.

Embarrass yourself, race for health, and leave thoughts of medals to the Olympians.

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