With the London Olympics just eight weeks away Olympic Ministry Award Receiptent Mark Tronson, the chairman of Well-Being Australia is writing a weekly series of articles leading up to this world gala event which encapsulates the nations of the world in sport, politics, economics, culture, benevolency and religion.
A basic issue is the ‘personal human internal conflict’ that applies in many fields, but have some special aspects in the field of top sport he explained.
Mark Tronson founded the Sports and Leisure Ministry in 1982 and headed up the sports ministry placing chaplains throughout Australian professional sports to 2000 and was himself the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years. In 2009 he and his wife Delma were awarded Olympic Ministry Medal presented by Carl Lewis, the Olympian of the Century.
The issue, he says, is how do I define my own humanity? What is it that makes me me? Gives me dignity, identity and significance, value in my own sight? And in the sight of my peers and others.
Much of this answer is culturally determined. These may be very different in terms of what a person has to do, but the tests have the same purpose.
In our diversified culture we recognise prowess in many different fields though gaining positions of power or great wealth are ranked very high.
Recognition and personal significance
However recognition and a sense of personal significance can be gained in many other fields: music, politics, professional, religious, academic, military, industrial, financial, athletics/sport etc.
In every such field there is opportunity to be ‘someone’ and there is competition for the top prizes. To change the Scripture text, ‘many aspire but few are selected for the top’.
People in every field could tell their own story of success or failure, achievement or disappointment accompanied by the appropriate emotional consequences of elation or depression, self affirmation or self rejection.
Here the will and desire to succeed are very strong the emotional responses will be greater, while many people are able to accept their level of achievement without rejecting themselves because they did not reach the top.
Athletes are particularly vulnerable
People involved in top sport are particularly vulnerable for the simple reason that the whole operation is based on win / lose competition. In some other fields there is a job to be done, and there their personal competition goes on a side issue. Thus in industry the business has to be kept running as a profit, that in itself is important.
In top sport the job to be done is to win and all the skills have been employed to that end. The struggle for the individual is to get into the top bracket in order to get a chance to be one of the winners (in team sport) or the winner (in individual sport). So the personal struggle to succeed, to achieve, to win is significantly heightened.
It is heightened further by a whole group of outside pressures. To begin with there is the coach and or the manager, who managers the person and plays a dominant role in the life of the athlete at the personal, emotional and physical level. After this / these people there are financial pressures involved in this, topped off by media commentators and the public at large.
If the athletes simply succumbs to these pressures and becomes a ‘trained animal’ dominated and controlled by them, he will never ‘know’ himself and self realisation or self fulfilment will be quite beyond his/her experience.
If, on the other hand, there is an awareness of personhood, an awareness of a self to be fulfilled or realised, then the athlete is in a position to exercise some control of his own life. Should such awareness be shared also by the Coach/Manager then a positive and creative relationship of mutual endeavour can develop in which both are fulfilled.
The London Olympics are an example of understanding
To go back to where we began, how we define ourselves as persons is a crucial issue. If the person is defined or defines themselves merely in terms of sporting prowess, as an Olympic champion or as an Olympian, the person that emerges is seriously stunted, under–developed, no matter what level of physical achievement is obtained.
These issues have come to the fore in many publicised cases in recent years involving athlete suicide, financial ruin, athletes going off the rails, athletes being unable to cope with the pressures and a host of other well recognised issues.
One Olympic ministry that has focused on these issues is Lay Witnesses for Christ International led by Dr Sam Mings. These London Olympics will be their eighth Olympiad in ministry, many of whom are former Olympians.
Next week in this Olympic series, Mark Tronson reflects on these issues for the Christian athlete.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html