For those who do not fully appreciate sport it is a difficult fact to accept, but sport is better at life than life itself.
Now this may seem a rather strange and very confusing thing to say but bear with me. In life we are taught from a young age to be ambitious, to strive for excellence and never coast. We are taught to make the most of life whilst always seeking to better ourselves.
There is no limit; another job promotion is just around the corner, an extra 5% in an essay is a possibility and there is always something else you can do for the community. Whether it be giving a little more money or even time to charity, or spending that extra half hour talking to an upset friend, we can always outdo ourselves and improve as human beings.
Yet, how many people actually abide by this? When you are comfortable in a well-paid job why exert yourself when you’d need to win the lottery to improve the quality of life for your family?
Why bother trying to get those extra few marks, a 1st in a degree is a 1st, be it a high or a low one. You already give a proportion of your earnings to charity and regularly sponsor people who push themselves to raise money for a specific cause, so why do anything else? You already do enough. That friend you haven’t seen in a while, why take time out your schedule to see them when you can just drop them a quick text. It’s good enough.
Here is where sport makes the difference. It demonstrates how life is meant to be lived. In whatever sport it may be, from football to rowing, horse racing to tennis and judo to curling, mediocrity is frowned upon. It is an insult. Ever since the Ancient Olympics in Greece sport has fundamentally been about winning, nothing else.
One man proving he is of superior strength, stamina, speed or skill to another. Thus, mediocrity is forbidden. Mediocrity is failure. Even ‘winning’ a bronze or silver medal is seen by many as failure, it is a constant reminder that you are not the best. Being nearly the best brings a tap on the back, but greatness is out of reach.
Sportspeople are constantly improving. They stretch the limits of human capabilities on a daily basis. They make us reassess what our bodies can achieve. From Edmund Hillary’s daring ascent of Everest, to the first 4 minute mile and finally to Usain Bolt’s simply superhuman efforts in the 100 metres sprint. These are feats that, before they were achieved, were seen as impossible. It is almost impossible to grasp the sheer awesomeness of Bolt. 9.58 seconds to run 100 metres is incomprehensible.
Running on average more than 10metres per second is utterly incredible. I implore you to measure out 10 metres, and then maybe, just maybe you will have the slightest understanding of what an incredible specimen Bolt is. He is indescribable.
Our glass ceilings which we barely chip in our life are constantly being shattered in sport. It’s not even solely applicable to sports which are entirely physical like running or jumping.
Our skill sets are constantly being reinvented and bettered. Visionaries are constantly redefining what sporting perfection is. This is the beauty of sport, it is almost impossible to achieve a summit because a new ‘mad man’ might come along and not just change the current style of the sport, but completely tear it up and implement a new one.
Football is the ultimate example. Johan Cruyff’s Ajax team of the 1970s were light years ahead of the rest with their beautiful passing football. It was the first transition of football from a physical game, based purely on pace and power, to a highly technical game in which physical stature is of less importance.
In the late nineties though, a young awkward looking Frenchman came from Japan to manage Arsenal and after initially being lambasted as clueless, changed the face of the Premier League forever.
He combined to a quite startling effect the traditional power of the English game with the technicality and the skill of the continental game. Arsene Wenger’s ‘invincibles’ of 2003/2004 shed a new light on football in England.
Yet, it doesn’t end here. Twice, even three times, in the past 10 years football has been reinvented and footballing perfection ‘found’. Firstly, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona from 2008-2012 created what can only be described as footballing majesty with their tiki-taka football. Xavi and Iniesta were thought to be standard bearers, history makers, and the bar setters with which all subsequent teams would be compared.
When they demolished Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley in May 2011 it seemed as though perfection had been achieved. Even the most ruthless winner and the sorest loser of all, Alex Ferguson, was resigned to accept the defeat and acknowledge true greatness in its purest form.
To say that two years later, several weeks after Bayern Munich completed more than 1000 passes in 90 minutes of football, that same Barcelona side are seen as a little predictable is testament to the development of the sport.
Although I’ve mainly concentrated on football, the shattering of the glass ceiling is most evident in Athletics, notably at the Olympics. It is an event that simply rewards people for smashing human boundaries. World Records are there to be beaten and the setting of new ones is testament to the unfound limits of human capability.
There is a reason Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Chris Hoy have special places in most of our hearts. Their victories are victories for humanity; watching them fight through the pain is evidence that humanity has not yet stagnated. It gives us hope.
It shows us what we all wish we could do in our lives; achieve new, unimaginable goals.
Contrary to what I said before, sport is not always all about winning. It can be about stretching your own body to its limit. Just as we should stretch our own ability, be it sporting, academic or dramatic, to the extreme.
At London 2012, one of the most heart-warming and glorious finishes of a Brit did not end with a gold medal, rather Alan Campbell, the rower, being lifted out his boat by Sir Steve Redgrave as he sobbed uncontrollably. He had pushed himself so hard he literally could not lift himself out his boat.
That is something that deserves even more respect than it is possible to give. Watching a man stretch his body to breaking point is one of the times when you seriously question your own ambitions in life. It makes you ask yourself quite how far you are prepared to go to achieve your goals.
Are you still going to tell me sport doesn’t do almost perfectly what life tries, but fails, to teach us? As you’re sitting here reading this rather than that History book, or the notes from your last lecture just remember that someone, somewhere is most likely throwing up at the side of the track as he attempts tirelessly to run the 100 metres in under nine and a half seconds.
When you have that extra ten minutes in bed rather than read through your essay again to try and improve every little detail remember that someone has already been up for hours putting his body through hours of pain as he pounds up and down a beach until his body is broken.
Sport is the ultimate role-model. It teaches us discipline, ambition and drive. It forbids us to accept to decency, it makes us strive for excellence. It creates new ideas of perfection, new perspectives on the capabilities of the human body. It is the constant breaker of glass ceilings. It is a rocket with a never ending skyward trajectory.
It is not just the ultimate role-model; it is the ultimate role-model for life.