Friday, May 23, 2008

Elite selection or elite training?

It is not long now until the 2008 Olympic games commence on 8/8/8. My feelings are mixed. I love the spectacle and the internationalism, but am disappointed by the over-emphasis on winning which leads to dangerous drug-taking (and other extreme measures). Perhaps nowadays the Paralympics which follow in September are more in line with Baron Pierre de Coubertin's vision:
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympic Games, was born in Paris in 1863 and was personally involved in fencing, rowing, boxing and cycling. His visits to British public schools resulted in a lifelong interest in trying to get the heavily academic French schools to take up more sports-oriented curricula. As an educational theorist, de Coubertin was convinced of the importance of sport for the development of the individual. He believed that the qualities of initiative, teamwork and fair play should be encouraged in young people through participation in school sports and competitive games.*
The modern Olympic games have become the poster-child for an elitist program for developing athletes:
  1. Identify young people with exceptional potential in Olympic and other high-profile sports
  2. Enroll them into national sports institutes for long periods
  3. Train them full-time, often at the expense of other aspects of their education
In contrast to de Coubertin's amateur, generalist ideals this is a professional, specialist model, in which each country endeavors to create an elite for its greater glory. (As for the individual athletes, inclusion in such a training program is -- I guess -- a mixed blessing.)

* * *

In my martial arts experience I have enjoyed what may be termed "elite training" in the sense that it is of exceptional quality, and often demanding, but not restricted to a selected elite (thankfully!).

The overriding objective of the elite institutes is to develop athletes who can win in a narrow field of endeavor. By training in martial arts we can aspire to develop our potential fully and widely, and not just in a way which relies on the external benchmark of winning.

Remember, it is a win for you every time you overcome a limitation, learn a new skill, have an aha moment, or apply what you have learned in one area of your life somewhere else.

Learning a martial art can provide an avenue to train yourself to better meet the challenges of life.


Apotheosis said...

I couldn't agree more sensei. It is unfortunate that the competition has created a rift in the origins and 'spirit' of the games. I do marvel and highly admire the great achievements the athletes attain. I guess on one hand the games creates a purpose and motivation for exceeding expectations and pushing boundaries. Competition is equally as rewarding from just participating in one. The dynamic learning that can occur is mostly more effective than winning itself. It is a highly subjective point, as individual goals and preferences will shape the desire to be the best at a specific skill (elite) or to strive for a broad knowledge and understanding (generalist).

Just as an aside great blog sensei. I'll be adding this to my newsfeeds.

Daniel Prager said...

Hi Lenny:

Thanks for stopping by.

I also marvel at the achievements of great athletes, and also of people in other walks of life.

I also like your point on generalists vs specialists. It is clearly a matter of personal preference or necessity as to where and when to pursue depth vs breadth.

It seems to me that world cultural has been leaning fairly heavily towards depth. Back in the Renaissance a greater amount of breadth was apparently the norm.