By Victor K.
It’s safe to admit that North America and Europe boast very different cultures from one another. While Canada and the USA are probably the most ethnically diverse countries on earth, it’s difficult to recreate societal trends that completely replace the ones that dominate the area. Simple differences like language, accent, food, vehicles and or clothes can be easily spotted by a foreigner. It’s when we start noticing peoples’ attitude and perception on other things, events or people where we truly see a difference in culture.
So how is sport involved in this? It’s a common saying that most sports are roughly 90% mental and 10% physical. While I agree with that belief, I would argue that competitive and professional success in sports can be achieved through what type of mentality you bring while outside of the game. Hard-working, dedicated and disciplined are all attributes that coaches love to hear about players. But are these traits solely the result of the individual’s personality or their cultural upbringing?
For the purpose of this discussion, I will compare the most dominant sports in Canada and Europe. While Canada has seen the most international success with ice-hockey, European countries are largely dominated by soccer. Regardless of the sport, what matters is the cultural upbringing and how youth are integrated into sport. I would like to stress that I am not comparing the effectiveness of athletic institutions in producing professional athletes. I believe that the junior hockey organizations of Canada and professional youth academies of most European countries are equal in merit. I am suggesting the differences in the upbringing and mentality of youth revolving around sport.
So, while it may seem that Canada has done an excellent job in producing pro hockey players, seeing as over 50% of NHL players are Canadian, I would still consider the upbringing of Canadian youth, in a sporting context, as passive. By that, I mean that since Canada is so diverse and full of opportunity and options, that society doesn’t place such a huge emphasis on pursuing a competitive career in sport. Most youth are usually internally motivated or backed up by family and close friends rather than societal trends. What our society does mostly is implore fair-play, fun, participation and respect. While these are all good ideals for active-play, it can become an obstacle for youth who desire utmost competition.
To counter this notion, many European countries place a heavy emphasis on not only participating, but excelling in your respective sport, soccer especially. Soccer is so highly regarded and imbedded on the culture that most youth actively seek competition and challenge, practically to the point where education is seen as secondary. For example, the concept of certain communities where youth play soccer without keeping score would be laughed at.
To support this comparison, I have experienced first-hand the cultural differences in sport. During high-school, I spent some time in Serbia to play soccer. It was with one of top three clubs in the country on both senior and youth levels, therefore our coach would continuously highlight a certain honor and prestige to play for the club and live for its colors. Opposite to Canada’s fun and fair-play model, coaches were not afraid to yell and swear at youth as young as eight years old. Some might see this as obscene, but for the younger youth at my club, “fun” was seen as always trying to outperform everyone else and show off one’s talent. Furthermore, most all of children under ten years old would swear and curse just as teenagers and adults do, and nothing was made of it. After an away game in the opposite corner of the country, and an unfavorable result, a brawl between both teams ensued and spectators/adults joined the action by throwing rocks and spitting at our team… of fifteen year-olds. While immensely inappropriate, this shows that adults are expectant of the determined and serious nature of youth sport.
Finally, I would like to point out that there are always exceptions. While I stated that Canadian society is more passive in its efforts to produce serious athletes, success at the highest level is still being found, albeit in a smaller proportion. This can be supported by the fact that there are roughly 750 Canadians contracted to NHL and AHL franchises. That number may seem miniscule compare to the country’s population, but seeing as each of the 30 NHL teams, along with their AHL affiliate, are allowed to contract 50 players per season, it is estimated that half of a team’s complete roster will be Canadian. I do argue that these individuals are most likely the result of hockey parents breaking the norms of youth development by, what some might consider as, overworking or robbing their child from a “proper” childhood. I believe that when it comes to excelling in one particular sport, expectations are everything. The difference is that certain expectations are more easily facilitated through some cultures than others.
Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets for Middle Childhood
Bairner, A. (2001). Sports, nationalism and globalization: European and North American perspectives. Suny Press.