The Meaning of the Decathlon
The deepest layer of questions in sport
Sooner or later, every athlete faces questions like, “What’s the point of all this? How is any of this meaningful whatsoever in the grand scheme of things? Why should I keep going? What’s my personal “why” doing this sport?”
Understanding the deepest layers of why and how we “tick” might be exactly what we need as athletes to get to the next level. Knowing your “why?” in sport will not only produce better results here and now but also offer a sustainable strategy for a long and successful sporting career in the future.
Decathlon on the scale of importance
If there was a “scale of importance” in things that really matter in life, where would the decathlon stand? In other words, how much does the decathlon really matter? The answer might shock many of you: Decathlon does NOT matter. Just like football, rock n’ roll, theatre, hockey, painting, recipes, flowers, cricket or interior design. All of these, including the decathlon, are placed well below having clean drinking water, quality food, shelter, and safe transport. The things that really matter are those that help us continue to exist. Right?
Yes and No.
We can survive without the decathlon through the Covid-19 crisis, but we cannot survive without functional lungs. The priority here is clear – health and safety of a human being. No questions asked.
But what about the time when this pandemic passes? Surely, when not under crises, there is also a place for the less important things in life. Those are the things that bring us deep joy in daily lives. Decathlon is one of those things.
The potential “why” of decathlon
Let’s say, the virus has calmed, we’ve got the vaccine and we can go back to decathlon training and competing. A follow-up question comes to mind – why decathlon? It’s neither good money even at the elite level, nor is it easy or even safe (think of all the “kamikaze” pole vault falls you’ve seen, performed by all level decathletes). Why not try to find passion in something less grueling and more buck-producing?
There are 3 answers - at least - as to why decathlon is a good choice. But for each reason why there are some notes of caution to consider.
One of the answers could be simply because it’s a fun challenge. It busies the brain, challenges it, and rewards it constantly with short bouts of improvements. It regularly brings new hopes and doses of “happiness hormones” by breaking season bests, personal bests, or other records. In the decathlon, the reward is multiplied by ten. Literally. And it feels good.
Notes of caution: Spending your career having fun while someone else pays for it is selfish. Selfishness is not seen as a virtuous trait, therefore, not always praiseworthy from the public and your friends and family. This realization can become very demotivating over time.
Another answer could be because it can make you famous and influential. Fame and power feel good too. Fame, influence, and money really can expand our horizons and improve our standard of living. Therefore, they must be ultimately good for us.
Notes of caution: More often than not, this comes at a high cost. Sometimes the cost is unbearable pressure and expectations from the society that we’re not ready to cope with. Or it can be a tremendous cause of insecurities that make us into “performance junkies” seeking to find another dose of approval. Not a long-term strategy that would serve us well after our careers are over.
Decathlon can serve as a platform to practice becoming a better human being. It’s like a special kind of performance art that requires each participant to adopt a special kind of lifestyle, even when off the stage.
“The decathlon lifestyle” involves staying committed to many small steps in a long and tiring journey. This journey involves overcoming lots of physical, emotional, relational, and even spiritual hurdles.
The hurdles along the way require us to make choices. The choices in a decathlon lifestyle offer its participants an opportunity to practice principles in a way little else does. Some of these principles are: the pursuit of excellence, self-sacrifice, camaraderie, love, perseverance, passion, nobility, courage, and grace.
This kind of “why?” offers deeply rooted motivation and meaning that lasts.
Notes of caution: The nature of sport is competitive. It’s like a modern-day gladiator battle. While we might put these principles into practice in the way that we conduct ourselves, on the field, it is every man and woman for themselves. We all want to win and triumph over our opponents.
Different “whys” offer different destinations
As you see, there are many “why?” options out there to consider. Some may be more compelling to you than others. You could choose to do the decathlon to gain influence and power, improve your standard of living, bring fame to your family or country, and even let the decathlon be your moral teacher or to many - a worship song to God.
Whichever option you choose, it is important to remember that each of the “whys” can take you to very different places – athletically, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Having a thought-out and satisfactory answer to, “Why you are doing what you are doing?” is an empowering and deeply motivating force that could be missing from your athletic journey. By practicing a strong “why?”, good results (to the best of your ability) will come as an inevitable side-effect.
I hope this can be a helpful exercise for you, as you formulate your own “Meaning of the Decathlon” and the personal “Why?” it entails!
Photo by Frans Van Heerden