We all love to win; it’s human instinct. A race finishes and the first question is “Who won?” We are interested in who is receiving the medals; we want to know whether or not the long standing favorite in that 100m sprint or grueling cross country race crossed the finish line first or was defeated by an underdog.
When a race finishes, the student always knows which place she came or who she beat and who beat her. But often Zimbabwean student athletes don’t take note of their time and whether they have improved or backslided since their last race or from the previous season. You can ask after the race “How did you do?”, and the answer comes back “I came third.” Maybe that student improved her time and even hit a personal best. Does she know? Is she tracking her own progress?
It’s time we all work toward a new culture in Zimbabwean high school sport across the disciplines – that of competing against ourselves to strive toward our potential. No place is that clearer than during cross country and track and field season. Just as a university doesn’t care how you ranked among your peers in your maths class, but wants to know your exam results, an IAAF qualifying standard doesn’t care which medal you earned, but wants to know your time.
Last year SSN started off-season electronic time trials . Held during second term, the objective of these time trials was simply to allow student athletes to compete for better and reliably recorded electronic times, regardless of who else they were racing against. These time trials purposefully had wide age groupings and included everyone from the country’s fastest junior sprinters to rugby and hockey players who simply needed a 100m or 200m time for their sports cv. There were no medals, no announcement of winners, but instead announcements of record times and personal bests. And the mood was different – students were voluntarily running to improve their performance and know where they stood.
It’s really fairly simple. Each student should track his or her times in races, whether they are hand timed or electronically timed by SSN. Find a small notebook or use a phone app and record them. Study the trends. Coaches should track, too, and be able to use the progression as a teaching tool. Have you shaved off a minute or two on your school’s cross country course since you ran it last year? Are your km split times decreasing? Were you faster in the first round or the second round of your 800m race?
Top Zimbabwean high school athletes often face no real competition at the school level, and need to be able to push themselves even when they know they will easily win the race at hand. Basking in the glory of medals and podiums only breeds complacency. When we can work together to get to a culture where a student is not pleased with his or her performance because it represents an setback even if he won a race, then we all will be triumphant.
So who’s the real competition? You know the answer. It’s yourself. And there’s no better feeling than the rush of beating yourself to realize your true potential.