A Sporting Culture Coached to Chase Prosperity

  • November 14th, 2018
  • Tom Bean

As incentives increase, there is more motivation than ever to reach the pinnacle of one's sport. Subsequently, a culture of identifying talent as early as possible and nurturing it to create athletes has become prominent; but has it come at the expense of sportsmanship?

After the ball tampering scandal, the Australian cricket team are in the midst of culture scrutiny. A recent independent review has questioned the "win-at-all-costs" mentality that has become the trademark of Cricket Australia's psyche.

Accused of recognising themselves as a "machine that is fine-tuned for the sole purpose of winning", what happened in South Africa was the product of a culture that CA created, fuelled by their yearning for success and fear of the risks that come with failure.

Talent is quickly fast-tracked into the system

Throughout sport, the 'remember the name' cliches are uttered on a seemingly weekly basis as 'the next big thing' is thrust into the limelight. These talented young people are fast-tracked into academies, 'elite squads' and 'futures competitions' and are given a professional athletes lifestyle before they've barely begun to learn their trade.

These systems have obvious benefits and without doubt have their successes. They give the talent a platform to grow with access to fine coaching and facilities and they educate young people how best to look after their bodies to allow them to realise their potential; they create an athlete.

However, does the all-engrossing culture devalue moral obligations in young talent?

Entitlement - a by-product of athlete culture

The main criticism of CA was their failure to count the costs before acting. A sense of entitlement amongst the players was blamed for their inability to recognise the line between winning at all costs and playing to within the spirit and rules of the game.

Arguably, the cultures of these talent pathways and academies nurture their sense of prerogative. The talented minority are given everything to focus on one sport, they're sculpted into elite athletes and rarely experience situations where they don't sit at the top, all with the sole aim of winning.

Sport is business, and a big business at that. These young people become an asset to their National Governing Body and evolve into a product of the culture in order to win, at times regardless of the costs. So when one is afforded such efforts from such a young age, it's hardly surprising that the line so often gets blurred.

Talent needs to develop at grassroots level

Grassroots level sport gives children the opportunity to learn about sport, to decide what they enjoy and to recognise the transferable values to situations outside of the sporting arena.

By participating in multiple sports, kids are exposed to different people, they expand their social circle and broaden their experiences and communication skills. They recognise different roles within the team by not always being the best and take up other positions accordingly, helping them acknowledge failure and to appreciate the role of the team.

It also helps in letting the child recognise the values of sport and puts less pressure on them by not focussing all their efforts into just one - following the event and cultural report, each of these qualities were arguably absent from CA's regular practice, laying blame to the events of 'sandpapergate'.

Yet as the culture of chasing remuneration in sport creeps into even the very lowest levels, children are increasingly given less time to discover a variety of sports because the perceived risk of 'missing the boat' is simply too high.

The archetypal 'pushy parent' has become a constant on the sidelines of grassroots games. When coupled with the motives of those at the top, determining where the current culture stems from is not straightforward.

Change of culture starts at both ends

Attitudes and habits are developed at a young age and identifying talent early is of course a valuable exercise, yet nurturing said talent requires sensitivity. Parents, coaches and federations must allow young people to become sportspeople before athletes.

It is seemingly inevitable that the athlete totally immersed in one's sport will lack the clarity to recognise where the proverbial line falls. So, if NGB's want to change the attitudes of players at the top of the game, some thought into talent identification and development will aid in changing a sporting culture, not reserved just for cricket, which often overlooks moral expenditure in the hunt for prosperity.


The Ethics Centre Organisation's review into Cricket Australia