One week from today is the AFL draft. For a select group of young men this is their big shot at making the big time as a professional athlete. If you do not know what AFL is it does not really matter, suffice to say it is a sport (see below).
I like to compare sport to how the rest of us live because I think it can lead to some really interesting analogies and lessons. Sometimes it’s best to look beyond what is immediately at hand.
The comparison to real life I am making today is about young people and their entry into the labour market. Young people in Australia, who do not pursue a career in trades, sit a set of exams after 12 years of school and get a ranking. In Sydney this is known as your ATAR and it is your entry into university and subsequently a white collar job. The logic being the higher your ATAR the higher your chance of getting into the course you want and the better the university you go to the better your chance of employment in your given field.
Now compare this to the AFL. Young footballers who perform well get invited to a draft camp where they are put through a series of tests that measure aspects such as their skill level, decision making, endurance, speed, agility and other aspects considered important to be an elite footballer.
Pretty similar. Tests and rankings determine your future. No surprises then that you see young kids in both these areas under immense pressure to perform in these tests. It’s an all or nothing winner takes all situation. And, as a result, what you see is intense competition and kids doing what they can to gain an edge. Tuition for example in academic studies, sprint coaching or dietitians for footballers and, I have even heard of performance enhancing drugs for both.
Are the extra efforts that our kids put in worth it? Someone has to get an ATAR of 100.00 and someone has to get drafted #1. One way of looking at it is if you work harder to get to the top someone else will take your spot because it is a relative ranking. In economics we have a term for this called a zero sum game. Your gains are equal to other’s losses, for example in poker (if you only count the dollars). The counter argument is that competition raises the overall level of performance and we are better for the experience, for example poker (if you consider the recreational benefit as well as the dollars) or in our education and sporting examples, a more educated population or a better sporting product.
The sporting lesson? Competition is good, it lifts your game and my game (just play within the rules so nobody gets upset).