It’s February 2018, and the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang are in full swing.
Since the start of these games I have been glued to the television.
For me, that’s a strange thing to do, and I’ll tell you why.
I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t support one particular team. Between you and me, I think most sports coverage is overrated as the most important of very unimportant news.
I often wonder why millions of people get all psyched about a major game, but seem to care very little about famine, global warming, or the annihilation of yet another endangered species.
I don’t get why some folks are willing to fork over a fortune to buy tickets to a match, but aren’t willing to pay a few dollars more in taxes so their state can properly fund education, or repair those bridges that are on the brink of collapse.
I don’t understand why people make time to go to a lame game where two teams are chasing a round rubber object, but they couldn’t be bothered to leave the house to vote.
I find it profoundly disturbing that music, drama, and art teachers are always the first to be fired when schools need to cut jobs, but nobody dares to touch the athletic department.
Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not fully integrated into American society yet. The USA is a country where baseball is called “The National Pastime,” and where NFL stars are paid more to defend their team’s title than we pay servicemen and women to defend their nation.
How we spend our money as a society, reveals our priorities.
If you want to know what’s important to a country, you should also listen to its language. U.S. politicians talk about “leveling the playing field.” Motivational speakers teach strategies for “winning the game of life,” and managers will ask us to “step up to the plate.”
Sport is part of the American spirit.
Enthusiasts tell us that it teaches healthy habits, strategic thinking, and teamwork. Sport, they say, is a powerful metaphor for life.
That may be, but is sport always healthy?
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization aimed at preventing unintentional childhood injury, every 25 seconds, a child athlete suffers a sports injury serious enough to send him or her to the emergency room (source). At age twenty, American snowboarder Trevor Jacob once admitted that his memory is already a little fuzzy as the result of at least 25 concussions.
And what does sport teach us about relationships?
When we talk about sports, we’re talking about competition. Competition is based on confrontation where being the best is often more important than doing one’s best. The aim is to overpower the other team or fellow-competitor(s), rather than to work together as teams toward a common goal. It’s a black-and-white world of us against the rest. A world of winners and losers.
America does not like losers.
These days, the world of professional sports is also a universe of sponsorships, mega-contracts, endorsements, and merchandise. You may be thinking that you’re watching a fun game, but in reality it is a shameless vehicle for product promotion. At this point the ad agencies have conditioned us so well, that many viewers are more excited about the TV commercials than about the game itself.
As voice-overs we’re benefitting from this development because we often lend our voices to these commercials. Fifteen seconds of script can pay the bills for an entire month.
Many of us have embraced sports metaphors in our line of work. We talk about “winning or losing an audition,” and we sign up for seminars to stay “ahead of the competition.” A bottle of “Entertainer’s Secret” is the performance enhancing drug of choice.
Having said that, I think it’s a big mistake to compare our job to what athletes do. First of all, most athletes are in much better shape! Secondly, we’re not running a race (although it may feel that way). We’re not competing for a place on the podium.
Yes, just like athletes we need coaching, quality equipment, and experience. Our success demands sacrifice. But submitting an audition is not the same as entering a competition, because we do not determine the outcome.
BEING THE BEST
In many sports, the fastest competitor wins. It’s that simple. Winning an audition has little to do with being the best. It’s about being the best fit in the eyes and ears of whoever is casting the part.
As voice talents we are not opponents. We’re colleagues. We have no title to defend or national reputation to uphold. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:
To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.
In order to do that, we need to lead by example, and we need to stick together.
Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.
One thing I know for sure.
As long as we see each other as competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: The Client.
Back to the Olympics.
By now you know I’m not that much into sports, but I have been watching what’s happening in PyeongChang. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a chauvinist, I’m usually rooting for the guys and girls in orange: the Dutch team. But what really got me, was something that happened during the games in Rio.
In the summer of 2016, American middle-distance runner Abbey D’Agostina and her former opponent Nikki Hamblin were both awarded special Olympic medals for sportsmanship. I’ll let the official Olympic website tell the story:
New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell to the ground during the 5,000m race, accidentally bringing American D’Agostino down behind her with around 2,000m to go. The 24-year-old D’Agostino was quick to get up again, yet instead of carrying on with her race she stopped to help the stricken Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to join her in attempting to finish the race. However, during her tumble, D’Agostino suffered an ankle injury, slowing the runner down, but Hamblin sportingly hung back to in return offer her encouragements. The two women went on to complete the race together.
Now, that’s the spirit I love in sports, and I love seeing it in my profession too: people helping each other succeed.
So, be a good sport. Take the time to become good at what you do before you enter the race. Get an excellent coach. Buy professional equipment. Engage in fair play. Cheer each other on.
You might not receive a medal, but you’ve just earned my respect, and the respect of your community.
That alone, makes you a winner!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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Mike Harrison says
I am in *complete* agreement, Paul. Everything. Thank you.
Paul Strikwerda says
Now we’re getting ready for the Paralympics. In many ways that’s even more impressive.
David Gilbert says
Nail on the head again! Priorities seem to be messed-up in this “western” society where “winning” takes precedent over process or compassion.
I too don’t subscribe to the belief that we are all “competing” in this VO world as there is an artistic side of VO compared to sports where it may be more comparable to figure skating than football. Ultimately if a casting director likes you or your delivery choice better than the other person, it’s neither a “win” nor a “loss” for either VO, it’s just, well, life. All you can do is try your best, put your best foot forward with as many people you would like to work with, and ultimately let them decide if you are the right person for the job.
Looking forward to seeing you soon in Atlanta!
Paul Strikwerda says
Thinking back to the Olympics…. quite often the difference between gold, silver, and bronze was only hundreds of seconds, or half a point. I often wish first place could be shared.
Ultimately, success cannot be boiled down to numbers. There are people who are considered to be a great success in one area on their lives, but completely mess up in another. To me, that’s not success.
I’m new to the industry and have recently purchased professional equipment, have been training with J. Michael Collins, and have a blog to help others learn along with me.
Your closing comments are perfect, “Take the time to become good at what you do before you enter the race. Get an excellent coach. Buy professional equipment. Engage in fair play. Cheer each other on.”
After all, the goal should be to help others and grow a healthy VO community.
Paul Strikwerda says
Welcome to the club, Kendall! I’m all for a healthy, supportive VO community. As someone who is running a for-profit business, I also keep a close eye on my bottom line. Otherwise it’s just a fun hobby I share with a bunch of friends. Wishing you the very best!