Pole Vaulting

I never get tired of watching pole vaulters. Some writer at Sports Illustrated ranked it as the second most difficult athletic endeavor … behind hitting off a major league pitcher. My son did the event all of the way through high school, and it took me much of that time to understand the details involved. I will not bore you with these details. What I do ask you to consider is the interesting parallel this sport provides for life lessons.

In case you haven’t watched the sport, a vaulter can begin the event at any height they might choose. If they make three attempts and fail to get over the bar, they are done for the day. If they succeed on one of those attempts, the bar gets moved up and they get three more attempts. You don’t want to start competing when the bar is too low or you will get worn out from vaulting a lot. You will have a lot of successes, but no one will care, because you will be shot by the time you get to the serious heights. The competitors who make the highest jumps successfully, win the event or place according to their height ranking.

The interesting part has to do with the role of failure. The bar gets knocked off quite easily. Even the event’s best vaulter has at least three failures at the final height. If you were to ask a vaulter which they would prefer – winning their event by clearing a bar several inches lower than their personal best, or placing tenth at a meet by improving by an inch on their personal best, most all vaulters would say the later. The bar is the real challenge, not the other competitors.

Harvey McKay once said that if you want to triple your successes, you need to triple your failures as well. It seems like we live in a world where people who fail are considered the ‘losers’. It is a shameful thing. We avoid it ourselves, and we don’t like our children put in that position. It will hurt their self-esteem … right? I would argue that avoiding failure does little or nothing to bolster self-esteem. Overcoming failure is what will really give a person’s self-esteem a boost.

Life’s a tough sport … set the bar high.

Just a thought … DonC


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