Competition. Is it good or bad? Is it helpful or hurtful?
I’ve got this competitive side to me that I both love and hate. Like many people, I’m somewhat athletic, but not super athletic. I’m decent at sports, but by no means close to being great. I fall somewhere in that broad and completely normal category of “High School Athlete.” Anyways, there is a part of me that likes competition, simply because competing with people has made me better at doing things that I enjoy. But, part of me hates the competitive side to me; because when I am really trying to win, and I don’t…I get angry. I get the most angry when I’m competing against someone who is playing to win at all costs. This scenario brings out the deepest, darkest side of my competitive nature, especially if the rival is somehow picking on a teammate of mine who has less athletic ability than him.
I was playing pickup basketball with a group of guys a couple weeks ago when Mr. “I probably could be playing for the 76ers if I wanted to” showed up. At first his antics were amusing. And then he started guarding me…and fouling me. I’m of the belief that you should call your own fouls, he was of a different persuasion. A couple of games into this situation, with this punk draped on me like a bad body odor, the darker side of my competitive nature came out. I switched into win at all costs mode. I hate that side of me. That is a zero fun zone situation. I can’t remember whose team won more games, but I remember not having any fun that evening.
I have no problem with people playing their hearts out. There are plenty of times were I can remember having a ton of fun while playing my hardest. But I can’t remember any time that I’ve switched into “win at all costs mode” and had much fun at all.
The cost always outweighs the benefits of the win at all costs situation. When you are competing against a fellow human, and you are willing to do whatever it takes to beat them, than winning is officially more valuable than the humanity of your opponent.
Herm Edwards, a former NFL player and coach, and a current ESPN NFL analyst, had one of those classic NFL coach’s media melt downs after a game his team lost in 2002. In his post game rant Edwards said, “This is what the greatest thing about sports is…You play to win the game…HELLO!…You play to win the game.” Just like part of me loves competition and part of me hates it. Part of me agrees with this quote and part of me couldn’t disagree more.
Of course you don’t play the game to lose. That would be pointless defeatism. But is winning really the deepest reason we compete? When it comes to competing, isn’t there an outcome of greater worth than winning? When I was a kid with a ball on the cul-de-sac outside my house I competed in athletic games with my friends daily. I certainly wanted to win, but that’s not why I competed. I competed because I wanted to play. I wanted to emulate what I saw my favorite athletes do. I wanted to be like my dad. Aren’t we competing for something much deeper and more valuable than just beating someone at something?
I play basketball on Tuesday evenings with a group of friends. Every game I play, I want to win. But I don’t play to win. That’s not why I show up. I show up cause I want to be with my friends, I want to play, I want to be healthy, and yes, I want to compete.
Competition, when flowing from proper motives, cleanses the soul. It’s good for me to lose. I’d go so far as to say it is crucial. It’s also crucial that from time to time I win. When your sweating, working your hardest, and enjoying your friends, either outcome is valuable.
The best part of competition is when you are on a team and you are competing for the purpose of prospering your teammate. I love this side of competition. There is nothing better in all of sports than an awesome assist.
When you are competing with and against friends, then you can actually compete to prosper not only your teammates but also your opponents. When I’m competing against someone I love, I desire them to do well. Part of me actually wants them to win. That part of me has been growing exponentially over the past half-decade. It has coincided with becoming a father. My four year old son is a good
30 10 years away from being able to beat me in a competition where we are both competing our hardest. But, I’m truly excited for the dawn of that day…though I’m sure it will come with some serious grieving as well.
This post is perhaps a bit more rambling than I intended it to be. I can sense that I’m circling broadly around a concept that I can’t quite pin down.
Perhaps if we thought about sports as art, rather than something to aspire to professionally, much of the confusion would be cleared up. But that is clearly a thought for another post.
What is your experience – by no means limited to athletics – with competition?
What is the value of competition and what are its limitations?