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Age Concerns: are the younger generation less competitive?


Posted by Cags R under General on 29 September 2013 at 11:00 PM

Last week, an article by the The Wall Street Journal posed the question: is this the Slowest Generation?

The article addressed 'compete vs.complete' attitude in races and big events (where anyone who finishes is rewarded with a Tshirt, medal and various other race goodies) and placed the blame of this attitude firmly on the shoulders of the younger generation. Races such as Color Run and Tough Mudder came under fire for not timing competitors and thus making the entire run non-competitive (which, according to the article, clearly makes it a waste of time).

But is this fair?

A raging debate has sprung up on site (thanks to Ramon F) about whether this truly is the Slowest GenerationFrom that debate, there are 5 key questions from the Tribesports community that we'd like to put back to the original article author Kevin Helliker:

  1. Nick S profileIs this really an apples-for-apples comparison???

    The median finish time has increased by 44 minutes between 1980 to 2011.  So has the size of the field running in each marathon so it's hardly surprising the median has dropped. In 1980 there would have been hardly any charity runners at all in any marathon.  They would have been 90% club runners looking to better their PB's, SB's and club records.

    Nick S - 10 marathons and over 60 middle distance races

  2. Tribe Mud RunnersIs it possible that endurance racing is a rare sport where experience is actually favourable versus the usual physical advantages of (relative) youth?

    It's not a sport where you are ever using anywhere near your max power, speed or agility, but it is one where pacing, and mental toughness / tricks have huge importance. Perhaps this favours more experienced athletes?

    Adrian K - competitive weightlifter, snowboarder and footballer

  3. Jane H runningWhat's more important; overall participation or median race times?

    Statistics can be interpreted in so many ways; depending on what angle you are looking for. I think our younger generation needs to be encouraged, actually any age, to be fit and active, whatever form that takes. 

    I think people are motivated to improve their fitness, they enjoy the camaraderie of running events, and some people are also inspired to raise money for charities. But I think people work hard at improving their own times and setting PBs, not at all concerned about winning. 

    Jane H - 5 half-marathons and over 2000km of running logged this year (and mum to 3 active kids!)

  4. Has overall sport participation gone down?

    Paul BI think an article about the trend within in one sport (long distance running) or within a genre of sport (endurance events) doesn't necessarily mean an entire age group is less competiive. Yes it may very well be a sign but we'd need to take so many other things into account before such a broad statement can really be considered. Has overall sport participation gone down? Soccer, Football and MMA are widely popular. Those are very competive sports. While Tough Mudder, an untimed "challenge" has grown in popularity, Spartan Race and Warrior Dash which are both timed have grown just as much. Yes this article evokes some thoughts but the only thing I think can be taken away with certainty is that marketers have found a good angle in promoting new events - take away timing.
    Paul B - founder of Mud and Adventure

  5. Cardiosaurus profileIs speed the main aim for younger athletes?

    Nothing was mentioned about maybe another cause, the Ultra Marathon. 
    People are now just focusing on how far instead of fast. The sport has shifted in a new direction and has shown many that a Marathon is no longer the benchmark we thought it was. I got into Ultra Running last year at 32. Stop laughing at the back! Yeah I know, im not exactly old myself but I dont think I would have had the same mental focus or dedication that I have now if I had tried this when I was younger.

    The idea of seeing how far I can go far outweighs the tme it took me to do it......for now!

    Cardiosaurus G - Ultrarunner who has also completed a Color Run

So what so you think? Are 'kids today' just not as competitive as the baby-boomer generation or has the younger generation been unfairly tarred with an attitude towards sport which is simply more inclusive of all abilities? Share your views in the comments below and, of course, join the debate on site now!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    I think we're discussing multiple generations here - you're spanning from baby boomers to today's children, which I have two of at ages 10 and 8 and all the generations in between X, Y and Millenials. Since my boys have been involved in sports I have come to witness the era (and it may have started before) of the "participatory trophy". Basketball, baseball, soccer, football - doesn't matter, you get a trophy. Seems to be fine at an early age but then you set a precedent don't you? Personally, I would like to see the "PT" go away and perhaps transition to certificates for participating and trophy or medal for the champion. Kids should experience disappointment and develop the drive to work harder and harder for the next competition. Yes, of course, parents play a role in that but in the pre-teen sporting arena, we coddle a bit too much.

    encouraged this.


    I keep coming back to the view that we should be actively encouraging participation, and providing positive reinforcement. It is so important to get kids active in this era of technology, where the temptation is for kids to sit inside on their iPhone, iPod or iPad instead of outside getting involved in sports. Perhaps once they start entering running events for example, the desire to improve and be competitive will kick in, but the main point is they are working on their health and fitness.

    Dwight W and Peter M encouraged this.


    I think the true beauty of it is that in today's environment we now have offerings that fit the desires of a more diverse group of people. There will always be those that participate just for the fun or fitness of it, where others will be in it for the competition. As a whole I think there are more people interested in participating today than we have seen in the past. I recently ran a 5k where the field was over 17,000 runners. This was a predictive race meaning that although it was timed the goal was to hit the time you predicted you would finish in rather than who's the fastest. That race was a blast!! As for medals to runners I like that idea that 1/2 marathon and up distances offer something to everyone. Finishing a race of this length is a major accomplishment for most everyone that gives it a go. I don't like the everybody wins mentality that we see in a lot of youth programs as that fails to teach us 1) that it is OK to lose and 2) How to lose and win with sportsmanship. I also feel that completion is alive and well in this day and age but due to more people participating for reasons other than winning we lose a bit of sight on those that are there to "complete" to their fullest. Even the Tribesports community offers something for all comers and it is not necessarily just for those that are in it to rank up on the leaderboard. Everyone gets a chance to post their accomplishments both big and small and everyone gets a opportunities to win "medals" for their accomplishments. These aspects don't take away from those that compete here but rather they make a more appealing way to pursue fitness for a hugely diverse group of people from all fitness levels and backgrounds.

    Jane H and Peter M encouraged this.


    "1) that it is OK to lose and 2) How to lose and win with sportsmanship." - I'd like to add a third point to this @dwightw and that's 3) winning/earning a trophy should make you feel proud. I agree that celebrating participation is important but if your kid has a full trophy cabinet of participation medals, will they appreciate what it means if they win an event?

    encouraged this.


    I totally agree @cags! Learning what it takes to win, going for it and being proud of your accomplishment(s) with humility are also crucial traits :)


    I went to see the junior cross country races a few months ago...I couldn't believe the competitiveness of these kids. They were running so fast that some were collapsing and bending over with pain. The look of agony in there faces. I was amazed!!!!

    encouraged this.


    totally agree that we need to encourage participation, but agree with peter re the molly-coddling giving of trophies.. my boys have hundreds of the things for various football, cricket x hockey.. i say get rid of the participation ones x concentrate on the awards that mean something...players player, best batsman etc. we currently have 3 trophy shelves crammed full, gonna need a bigger house soon!

    Jane H encouraged this.

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