Early maturity, early rot
There is such an assumption that everything good comes quickly. However, we also know that saying of early maturity, early rot. Are we able to predict at a very young age which children will excel later in life? Many children were labeled ‘talented’ at a very young age who on closer inspection turned out not to be.
Absolutely some children were in the picture at a young age, turned out to be talented, and achieved great things at a young age. Bjorn Borg was an example, Simone Biles is also an athlete who performed at a young age at the world level. Bukayo Saka should also not be missed in this list. This 19-year-old boy was in the finals of the European Championship and would be the last to take a penalty kick in the penalty kick series. He would bring the soccer back home. He failed and then half a nation fell over him. During the Olympics, Biles withdrew from some parts. She couldn’t take it anymore. In the run-up to the Games, it had become clear that he was sexually abused by the team doctor. During the Games, Biles also asked attention to the mental pressure that is put on young athletes. Something similar also happened in the Dutch gymnastics world. Here, as far as I know, there was no sexual abuse but several gymnasts appeared to have been mentally abused and humiliated for years. Where Biles stated during a court hearing earlier this week that the FBI had turned a blind eye, in our country, it was the union itself that had, let’s say, turned a blind eye. Not that there was any sexual abuse here, in our country it was more about the abuse of power, about cross-border training methods. The federation had known about this for years but had not intervened. Everything for the result. Eventually, the federation suspended several trainers pending an investigation. Something that led to the necessary unrest shortly before the Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, the Games are long behind us and I had, very unusually, to think back to the marathon. The silver medal of the Netherlands in the men’s and how this athlete encouraged his good friend, a Belgian, to get the most out of himself in the final kilometers. The pleasure he radiated was for me an example of the Olympic spirit. But even more so, I thought of the Belgian athlete who qualified for the Games in her very first marathon. A woman who only started running at a later age and who only ran her second marathon ever in Japan. She had no idea how to classify a marathon and when she saw that she only had to run five kilometers she said that is from home to the supermarket, I’ll manage.
What has been occupying me for a long time is the question of whether we should not just give children their sport back. Isn’t it simply about movement and fun instead of focusing on results, on labeling children early, putting them in boxes? Isn’t this rat race with kids just something kind of like an arms race? Someone else starts, you are afraid you are going to fall behind so you join in, stronger you go just a step further. The other thinks, what is happening to me now and takes another step forward, to which you are then forced to react. Isn’t it just very strange to apply our adult norms and values to youth sports?
In a recent column, Thijs Zonneveld called for a change of mentality in the whole of society. A somewhat populist plea followed:
It’s a bizarre paradox. On the one hand, we are obsessively concerned with health, IC numbers, and infection rates. We are pouring billions and billions into health care.
This statement was followed by a call to invest more attention and especially money in sports. Something you could agree with only then does the double bottom come out.
We pretend to be a country with a sports culture, but that is mainly because we are blinded by the top ten of the country rankings at the Olympics. We are good at cheering on successes. But we rarely ask ourselves how all those athletes got to that level and how we can ensure that athletes breakthrough in the future. In many sports federations, membership numbers, especially among young people, have been steadily declining for years. The pond is getting smaller and smaller, but we don’t see it because we are too busy admiring ourselves in the medal count.
The number of members of sports federations is indeed declining, but perhaps this is because sports clubs, federations perhaps look too much with those prizes, those medals and forget that not sport is the first necessity of life but play and exercise. If we want to work on our health, reduce hospital admissions, and not wait for a bigger pond and even more Olympic medals, we must pay attention to exercise, to games, and, by extension, to the fun. After all, we need to keep everything going for a lifetime.