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USA Today Columnist: We’re Not Winning At Olympics Because We’re Obsessed With Keeping Score

By  Hank Berrien

A USA Today columnist has decided to lecture Americans about their propensity for keeping score, noting approvingly that Norway is “kicking our red, white and blue rear ends” because in Norway, kids involved in sports programs are not allowed to keep score.

Dan Wolken writes that the Norwegians at the Olympics are not boasting of their domination of the Winter games thus far, quoting Tore Ovrebo, the Norwegian Olympic Committee’s director of elite sports, saying, “We’re not a gorilla beating its chest. We know it can change very quickly. We have to work hard.” But Wolken continues:

They’re also not here to tell anyone (like the struggling U.S. team; cough, cough) how to go about their business or impose their Norwegian societal values, which they believe are directly tied into the success of their winter sports development. But from an American perspective, let’s be real about this: Norway is kicking our red, white and blue rear ends here in Pyeongchang. And we’re not the only ones.

Wolken notes, “Unlike the U.S., where we keep score of everything all the time, Norway puts kids in sports but doesn’t let them keep score until age 13. The idea is to make sports part of their social development so that the motivation to stay involved is to have fun with their friends, not winning.”

Then Wolken quotes Ovrebo:

A huge amount of Norwegian kids are doing sports, so we have very broad recruiting base, and our top sports programs and our kids are very closely connected in our system. They can compete, but we don’t make like No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 before they’re in their 13th year. We think it’s better to be a child in this way because then they can concentrate on having fun and be with their friends and develop. We think the biggest motivation for the kids to do sports that they do it with their friends and they have fun while they’re doing it and we want to keep that feeling throughout their whole career.

In addition to pointing out that Norway was No. 1 in the United Nations’ Human Development Index last year, Wolken adds, “ … most Norwegians, it turns out, don’t have many troubles given the universal health care, free college education and high employment rates.”

Back to Ovrebo:

We have quite a high level of life quality for a very high percentage of the people and that puts them in a position where they can actually choose sports as a kind of self-realization and development arena. They’re not struggling for their lives, so they’re quite free and quite educated and have good health state. That means many of the youth are actually in a position where they can choose sports.

By golly, Wolken is practically gushing`: “And if that isn’t utopia-ish enough for you, get this: Even when the athletes grow up and start competing for big trophies, they remain friends. Not made-for-TV-and-Twitter friends, but, like, real friends. Among the other things Norway encourages is for the sports and coaches to get out of their silos and talk to each other and learn from each other.”

Ovrebo does acknowledge that the climate in Norway might have something to do with their success at the Winter Games: “We want to be better at summer sports because there are lots of kids doing summer sports but they don’t have the same natural advantages, and the funding is much lower for their sports. But if they’re not funded, they die. We’re really working hard on that piece.”

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