Last weekend, Tiger Woods won his first major championship in 11 years. It was undoubtedly an awesome sporting achievement — a once great athlete, written off for over a decade due to various injuries and personal issues comes back to win on the biggest stage his sport has.
It has been interesting to watch the reaction to his success at Augusta. There has been plenty of positivity, with many stories focusing on him being the “Greatest of All Time” and how it was “The Greatest Sporting Comeback Ever” (according to his pal Michael Jordan, no less).
However, I have also sensed some conflict in praising Woods too much. After all, here’s a guy that was exposed as a serial cheater and more recently been charged with driving while under the influence “of alcohol or drugs”. Does he DESERVE our adulation? If the average person had done what he had, what would our opinion be of them? In our hyper-connected, social media-driven world, it is harder than ever to separate the art from the artist.
He may be the GOAT, but he is also undenaibly flawed. There is enough evidence to suggest that he is obviously not a very nice guy. So should we hold him up as a role model to our next generation of athletes?
I cannot defend Tiger Woods or say that I understand why he did all the things he did. However, when it comes to role models, I still believe he is an excellent example of one.
We are not perfect so why would we connect with a role model who was?
There are some fantastic sporting role models out there, who have reached the top of their sport and exude an almost-perfect aura. Roger Federer, Chris Hoy and Jessica Ennis-Hill have all achieved greatness and done so while looking great and maintaining a near-flawless public image. They are the kind of people that parents want their children to have posters of.
The problem is, perfection and flawlessness are unachievable to mere mortals. The Observatory for Sport in Scotland‘s research concluded that perfect role models actually have a NEGATIVE effect on sports participation (especially for girls). This is because young people look at what a tennis player SHOULD be — Roger Federer — realise they can never be like him, and don’t even bother picking up the racket.
If we can’t be open, honest and publically acknowledge the failures and mistakes of ourselves and the role models we choose for our sports, how can we be authentic? How can we expect people to connect to us?
Exposing our weaknesses, risking ridicule and embarrassment is the driver of excellence. Covering up our weaknesses will not lead to excellence. As Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly , “vulnerability is at the core of all meaningful human experiences.”
Great things happen to people who are prepared to learn from their mistakes. A good role model shows that they have made mistakes and have used them to fuel themselves forward. This is a great example for normal people in all walks of life.
In The Score Takes Care of Itself, Bill Walsh discusses how organisations and teams have a way of doing things that emanates from a source, i.e. the leader. It seems to me that we are terrified of people copying the mistakes — “If Tiger did it then I can do it too” — whereas what we should be focused on is how that role model REACTED to the mistake.
Consciously or unconsciously, people will model their actions on those of their leaders and role models. We are all flawed so let’s hold people up as role models who can show us how to positively react to our mistakes. Who we are matters than what we are or what we know, and we can’t give people what we don’t have.
For our sports, there are role models all around us. Normal people achieving success at club, regional and national level that do so while also working full-time and raising a family, trying their best to make the most of their talent. These people are real role models, who we can all aspire to be like.
It is often said that once you think you’ve figured everything out, a humbling experience is around the corner. I want to learn how a person came back from that humbling experience, regardless of whether it was of their own making or not. More than 10 years after being exposed as a deeply flawed human being, the open-minded among us should look at what Woods has just done and see the lesson — that failure does not mean finished.
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