As an Australian, sport can be a very big part of your community life. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald showed that on average Australian families are spending $2180 a year on children’s sport activities. Some of our biggest national identities are sportsmen and women and the big sporting events are common water-cooler conversation starters.
Not surprisingly, sport factors heavily into the day-to-day lives of our children, whether it’s weekend sport or just the odd game of backyard cricket or lunchtime soccer. Sport can be a haven of role models for our children. I like to ask the children I meet who their favourite sporting stars are and they always have an answer. Unfortunately, our sporting gods and goddesses are mere mortals and prone to mistakes, and those mistakes commonly end up on the front pages and on the nightly news.
Luckily, there are a host of sporting heroes from the past who demonstrated great attitudes and behaviour for impressionable young minds. I thought I would share a couple of my favourites. It can be useful to tell these stories to children if you want to discuss the values of sportsmanship, determination and professionalism.
1. Bjorn Borg
A Swedish tennis player from the 1970’s, Borg is famous for his rivalry with John McEnroe, who frequently graces our television screens during the Australian Open. While McEnroe was known for his emotional outbursts on the court (“you cannot be serious!”) Borg was nicknamed, “the Ice Man.” This was due to the unusual amount of mental control he displayed and his steely determination to win the match.
There are accounts that such was his mental control that opposing players could deliberately hit the tennis ball past his head and while he may feel anger, he would instead dedicate those emotions into his game. Other players recalled that his cool demeanour was such that they couldn’t tell after a game whether he had won or lost, as he methodically packed his clothes and equipment away.
Interestingly, Borg was not born this way. As a young player, a tennis prodigy, he actually received a six-month ban from Swedish tennis due to his anger, his foul mouth and his bad sportsmanship. But receiving such a punishment devastated him, and he focused his mind to getting back into the game and playing with a different attitude.
As a role model Borg is a great example of how focus and dedication to your craft can yield positive results. There is also an element of mindfulness; focusing and re-focusing the mind to the single activity you are doing, right there in the present moment. For a child who can get too focused on the outcome, or is extremely competitive, Borg is a great discussion starter for a different approach to sport.
2. John Landy
John Landy was an Australian middle-distance runner. He was very successful during the early to mid 1950’s. He was known for a friendly rivalry with British runner Roger Bannister. Bannister was the first man to break a well-known running record, the 4-minute mile (1609 m). Landy was the second man, beating Roger’s time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, with 3 minutes 58. Landy’s record lasted for three years.
Despite being a remarkable athlete, Landy is equally remembered for his humility and his sportsmanship. A famous meeting between Bannister and Landy, known as the ‘Mile of the Century’ was won by Bannister. Landy was adamant that the better man won the race, even though two days before the meet, he had cut his foot, requiring several stitches. He had the opportunity to deflect on his loss with his injury, but he chose to highlight the success of his rival.
At the 1956 Australian National Championships, a precursor event to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, Landy ran in the final of the one-mile race (1600 m). During the third lap, fellow Australian Ron Clarke fell over. As Clarke helped himself to his feet, Landy did a remarkable gesture – he stopped, turned around, strode back to check Clarke was okay, and then resumed the race. Landy could have sacrificed his chance at winning to check on a fallen competitor. Even more remarkably, despite setting himself back considerably by taking whole seconds out of his race, he pushed himself to the limit to eventually recover all his lost ground and win the race!
The event is known as the greatest act of sportsmanship in Australian history.
What I love about Landy’s approach to sport was the combination of raw determination to win, but also a steadfast desire to make sure that the win is fair. He demonstrated a great humility, to praise the efforts of his competitors, rather than taking the easy route and blaming circumstances. For a child, he is a great role model for the importance of treating everyone with respect, regardless of what colour shirt they wear on the field. He is a great example of how humility and sportsmanship don’t necessarily mean you can’t give your absolute best for the win.
Read more about Bjorn Borg here: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2005/jun/05/tennis.features1
And John Landy:
footage of the famous event is on YouTube, but beware – grainy footage!