THE WORLD’S EYES ARE FIXED on the Beijing Olympics to witness the feats of world champions. But the Olympics really serve to remind us that champions are not only found in the sports arena, they are also found in other areas of life.
The statement is taken very seriously by the International Olympics Committee (IOC). It had convened a congress to gather world champions in the field of politics, science, the arts, business and sports to answer the question: “What makes a champion?”
Marissa Adviento, a sports psychologist from the Ateneo de Manila University, was the lone Filipino delegate to this pre-Olympic congress held a few days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics.
“The idea was to search for the common traits in the lives of champions and find out what makes a champion,” she explains.
According to Adviento, champions are made out of adversity.
“All the speakers in the congress said the one thing that made them champions was adversity, the experience of tremendous pain and trials. It’s like you can’t be a champion without adversity,” she says.
The pre-Olympic congress in Beijing was actually the second time the IOC convened world champions from various sectors of society.
Believing there is a potential champion in everyone, professor Allan Snyder of the University of Sydney’s Center of the Mind convened the first conference during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Nelson Mandela as keynote speaker. At that time, the Philippines was represented by its champions, former President Corazon Aquino and Ateneo de Manila University president Fr. Ben Nebres.
This year, Snyder collaborated with China’s Peking University for the second congress and on Aug. 4, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered the keynote speech. The IOC also declared “What makes a champion” forum a permanent event of future games.
An educational forum for the Olympics was an idea that Pierre de Coubertin, IOC founder, espoused in the 1890s when the Olympic games were revived.
According to Adviento, that was the first time De Coubertin used the term sports psychology, saying that excellence must be studied to find out what makes all winners the way they are.
Will the Filipino change?
Applying it to the Philippines, Adviento asks: “Is the Filipino willing to change his existing mindset to become globally competitive?”
You could go on and on about the problems of local sports development, she says, but according to the champions who spoke at the Beijing congress, adversity is a main ingredient in breeding champions.
“If this is the case, we are on the right track because we are abundant in adversity,” Adviento says, also referring to the country’s myriad problems.
But of all the things that could bring out a champion mindset, why should sports be the venue for it? Why should the Olympics serve as the inspiration?
Something about sports
Adviento, who is one of five sports psychologists in the country today, says sports is a good rallying point.
The Philippines, she says, should know the feeling. It is, after all, a country that stops at its tracks, gets zero crime rate when its boxing icon Manny Pacquiao has a match.
“There’s something about sports that gets the spirit and captures something inside us no matter what ideology, religion, or educational attainment one may have. Sports is a binding component and we must use it,” Adviento says.
Of course, sports alone is not the only ingredient. There are many other aspects to develop the champion mindset.
But sports, she says, is easily understood. It also develops character naturally. Things learned in sports like defeat, pain, struggle, are in fact, rehearsals for life.
Adversity—that all important ingredient in a champion mindset—should start at home.
Adviento, who is also a mother and an athlete, says parents must learn to let their children experience some form of adversity in order to make champions out of them.
Filipino parents like to tell stories of how they struggled through life and they will make sure their children will never have to go through any pain and suffering.
This attitude, she says, actually robs the youth of the very ingredient that made their parents great in the first place.
“When parents give everything to their children, they actually take away everything— including their spirit. They must encourage adversity and allow their children to fall and experience pain,” Adviento says.
More than just going for the gold, we should also strive to have the attitude of champions, she says.
The Filipino psyche which gives so much value to modesty and crab mentality conflicts with this champion attitude, Adviento explains.
“Being bold, aggressive and single-minded are not Filipino cultural traits. The more you blend the more OK you are. This is sometimes the reason why our athletes pale in comparison with the rest of the world,” she says.
Finding the courage
The novel ideas presented in the forum are probably not new to many Filipinos hoping to become champions, not just in sports but in other aspects of life.
Many of the ideas have been tried and tested. Some have worked and some failed.
But, Adviento asks, why do we have to give up? The challenge is how to rethink our present position, find the strength to get up and go on.
“We must have the courage to experiment and commit mistakes as great champions do,” she says.