There’s a trend in amateur sports which threatens a healthy future and perhaps even their survival as we know them. This disturbing trend is the misconception that competing means winning.
Behind this philosophy, we are eroding the joy in competing. We are smashing the inherent joy of working hard for a goal, by lowering the bar to give everybody the “win”. We continually are diluting the competitive structure to allow the most winners. Let’s hand out a ribbon to everybody, whether they earned it or deserved it. That’s unhealthy.
One of my favorite movies is THE INCREDIBLES. One of the best lines in the movie is when the antagonist, Syndrome, tells Mr. Incredible he is creating superpower technology he’ll eventually sell to normal people. Syndrome says, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”
Is that where we are going? Are we headed in the direction where only winning matters, so we need to make sure we create a system where everyone wins? That, my friends, is not a system which promotes the values and life lessons intended by sport. Teamwork flies out the door and the disciplined and dedicated approach to self-improvement soon follows. The reward for preparation is severely discounted. Using failure, or the potential of failure, to drive a desire to improve is swept under the rug.
Honestly, most of the true innate joy in sports is in competing. The joy of competing is in the working of one’s tail off to get better day after day in practice. The joy is in the going out on the field to give every last milligram of fight and intensity to compete with purpose, pride, and passion, win or lose. That’s what competing is.
Wins and losses will fall where they may, the competitive effort awards the athlete to a higher degree than any medal or trophy or ribbon. In fact, as much can be learned about oneself from a defeat as from a victory. Three of the most talked about football games in our tenure (even years after the games were played) were against 4A state powerhouse Holton Wildcats. These three games were massive, epic battles, games which felt like two rams rearing back and hammering horns together for four quarters.
These boys, now men, still talk about those games with a gleam in their eye. Do you know the common factor in those three Holton games? We lost. We played out heart out, we fought against the odds, we ignored the preconceived notion we were underdogs and vastly over-matched. We still lost. We ENJOYED those games enough to remember every detail ten years later, despite the final score.
THAT is what I am afraid to lose as we slide down the gravel slope to the pit where competing = winning.
In fact, I felt we found out more about who we were as human beings in how we responded to a defeat. We found out so much about ourselves as players and coaches by how we picked ourselves up from the muck of failure and worked to become something better. And for us adults, who’ve survived our share of hardships in life, isn’t that a great lesson for young athletes to learn?
Athletes remember the competition. The defeats and the victories often fade over time, but that feeling of having competed to the maximum of one’s abilities leaves a trail of satisfaction and has staying power.
As parents, coaches, and administrators let’s turn the tide, let’s once again turn our focus to the promotion of competition, instead of a focus on winning. We don’t need to eliminate losing. We don’t need to a ribbon or a trophy to be a winner.
We need the joy of competing to the best of our ability to make us winners.