Grand final footy is over, with the champions enjoying their spoils. The Olympics and World Cup victories still resonate in the sporting world. The cricket, netball, rugby and soccer battles are yet to come, and again champions will be crowned.
But have you ever considered how those victories impact the players' lives? I mean, beyond the fame and fortune? These sporting victories can bring turmoil but also reveal great life lessons on WHO we are and what really matters.
Several years ago I was part of an Australian government research team which examined the impact of success on 18 Australian Olympic gold medallists and their coaches. The results revealed that the majority experienced significant negatives associated with their victory. In fact, one participant even said the win produced such destructive results that she would not have competed if she knew the cost!
In recent years, we have seen similar struggles of high-profile athletes battling drug issues, business collapses and personal problems after their victories. Success brings both positives and negatives. The key is in contrasting these concepts with who we really are at the core.
This ground-breaking research, "Life After Gold" (Jackson, Dover, Maycocchi) highlighted several positive and negative experiences in winning an Olympic gold medal. Some of the positives included material gains, opportunities (e.g. jobs, books, open doors etc.), recognition, and sense of achievement (i.e. achieving personal goals).
However, it was the intensity of the negatives that provides important life lessons. Some categories included difficulties in coping (e.g. burnout with extra demands, lack of support), expectations and pressures from others (e.g. being put on a pedestal, tall poppy syndrome). One athlete explained,
"It (the gold medal win) turned me very confused in many situations. I was not able to get back to the meat and potatoes and common-sense approach to life that I had before."
Another athlete shared about the extra demands and pressures on her personality, saying,
"You're automatically looked on as a TV commentator and guest speaker and someone that must go to fundraising... you are public property. I have to be so extroverted because of what I've done, but I would be happy to take my gold medal and climb in a hole.... your life changes."
These athlete quotations illustrate the unexpected changes forced upon athletes due to their success. Life changes and the very core of their being is challenged.
In many cases, the routine, daily grind of training is destroyed after success. People demand more of the athlete: more time for appearances, more from their personalities (i.e. they are expected to be great public speakers) and more pressure to be the best at everything, all the time.
For many, the demands are too much. They train for their sport but are not trained for "success." Success seems to erode the essence of who they are and changes their identity into a human "doing" not a human being. Achieving Olympic success becomes their identity.
Rudyard Kipling's classic quotation sums up this theology of life, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same...." The lesson to be learned for athletes, and similarly for us, is that our focus in life should be being faithful to what we do.
Yes, we strive for success. Yes, we want to be victorious in sport and successful in our work. But at the core of our being, we are people made in God's image and our identity is found in Him.
Our true success and worth is not found in gold medals or achievements. It is found in His gracious love revealed in what Jesus has achieved. We compete for an audience of One. We should aim to honour God.
And this is not just in the outcome or results but in our attitude and faithfulness towards Him. Yes, success and failure will impact us. But it should never be allowed to change the Potter's original shape.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html