Let me start off by saying the last few weeks have been a great time to be Irish, with Ireland performing well in the Euros both on and off the pitch. Let’s not forget the lesser known basketball Euros that are on this week also, and the lads are doing just as good a job!
The thing I’m addressing here is an attitude I’ve noticed in Irish sport for quite some time, having experienced it first hand in the basketball world. I think this attitude is part of what limits Irish sport in joining the ranks of elite sporting countries like America, France etc. If you’ve ever been involved in a match that you should have won, or were close to winning but lost in the end, you’ve probably experienced this attitude at some point. It’s not a negative attitude, but a more ‘okay with losing’ viewpoint.
You’ll remember the countless people across the years coming to you after the loss and saying something like ‘Hard luck, it was a great performance though‘. If the performance was good enough, the match/fight/whatever event would have been won. To me, this acceptance of not being good enough is limiting how we compete in sport throughout the country. We enter tournaments and competitions knowing that, even if we under perform, we’ll be told we did our best and should be proud. It’s this, deeply embedded, passive attitude that is limiting potentially elite athletes from reaching their full potential. Would it not be more beneficial that, when we under perform, we’re not told that we did our best? Because 10 times out of 10, individuals already know they didn’t do their best and hearing that ‘you played great‘ when you didn’t doesn’t help.
Moreover, knowing there’ll be no serious repercussions for losing or under performing results in young athletes becoming okay with losing, okay with not improving or becoming better.
Being happy with merely participating rather than actually performing exceptionally is blunting our competitive edge as a country. Instead of being annoyed we lost, for example, against France in the last 16, we were just happy to have gotten that far in the tournament. Do you think England were happy to have gotten as far as they did, after losing in the same stage as we did? Absolutely not. You can guarantee there was an overall atmosphere of embarrassment and disappointment rather than being proud to have gotten to the last 16. They weren’t gonna be satisfied unless they won the tournament, an attitude that isn’t reflected here in Éire.
That’s just an example, but it points to one key factor that will hinder us from ever joining the ranks of elite sport until we address it. We have to raise the standards to which we hold our sporting performances. We have to stop being content with participating and start focusing on why we lose and how we can improve on past losses. To become elite we have to act like we are elite. Instead of being surprised and grateful for winning, we shouldn’t expect anything less.
Until we start expecting the same results from our athletes, coaches, trainers, facilities (and investors!) as other countries do, we’ll never be more than ‘lucky‘ to be here.