Are you competitive? Do you play cut-throat Scrabble, or Monopoly, or cards? Do you have a killer instinct on the softball field, the hockey rink or touch football field? Or do you race ahead even if it’s just in traffic?
I will confess to being extremely competitive. Whether I am driving, playing Yahtzee or softball, I want to get ahead, to win. I grew up in a highly competitive family. Cut-throat games of Monopoly were how my siblings and I would spend long evenings on winter vacations when our parents didn’t want us watching television. Card games and competitions to see who could toast the best marshmallows marked evenings on family camping trips, after racing one another in the lake or on hikes.
I think competition is built into us and is part of what makes us human. The drive to compete, to excel, causes people to go beyond the efforts they think they can otherwise do, to find levels of performance in themselves and inspire it in others. Competition causes people to look for new ways of doing old things, and to invent new things entirely.
I started thinking about the role of competition in our lives when a friend posted what turned out to be a humorous hoax article on FaceBook. It was from a Canadian radio program, This Is That. At the time he shared it, my friend didn’t know it was a hoax, and took it seriously, as did the rest of us. It was about a Canadian youth soccer league, who supposedly removed the ball from competitions, to ensure every child would be a winner. Here it is: This is That – Youth Soccer
Reading this story, before I knew it was a hoax, I began thinking about competition in the light of my grandchildren. The older ones are almost 8, almost 6 and just turned 4. They are even more competitive than my siblings and I were. These kids compete about everything! Living with them on a daily basis as I do, I see them compete for who can clean their rooms, who can eat dinner the fastest, who can hug their parents first and anything else they can think of at the moment! Competition is in their DNA.
When we attend a football or soccer or basketball game, the first thing we look for is the score most of the time. A game without a score would be missing a significant part of what makes it a game. When someone we love is competing, we want them to do well, to win. But without a score, there is no winning, and the competition is pointless.
In the past couple of years, there has been a movement in youth sports for children to play, but for no score to be kept officially. The reasoning behind it is all kids get a chance to have fun, and no one “feels bad” when their team loses. But short-sighted organizers failed to realize the children, lacking an official scoring system, time and again come up with an unofficial one of their own. While the wins and losses may not be publicized, the knowledge is still known to everyone.
Competition can also teach us lessons. Not just the obvious ones of what you learn in how to win at whatever you are trying to do, but less obvious ones, too. Lessons like good sportsmanship, fair play, honorability and even the inevitable lesson of being gracious in a loss are all learned when we compete if we are careful to pay attention to them. There is a mindset to winning, and another one in losing. Consistent winners develop positive attitudes, endurance, self-discipline, and perseverance. Many learn teamwork and the value of putting shared goals over individual ones.
Baseball great Derek Jeter once said,
If you’re going to play at all, you’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy, I hate to lose.
Derek Jeter’s comments sum up what I’ve been saying. I don’t think it’s just him, though. Deep down, if we truly examine ourselves, we all hate to lose. Don’t we?