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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

good competition?

let me tell you something about me that you may not know, i love competition. i'm speaking specifically here about athletic competition. i love being the guy with the ball with time running out and down by two or up to bat with 2-out in the bottom of the 9th and our team needing a run. i love to play sports and have always loved to watch a close game.

all my life i've heard how good sports are for my personal development. "healthy competition is such a good thing" they say. "you learn so much about life through sports."

then i had a child.

a child who at almost 2 years old is showing signs of athleticism. now i'm starting to evaluate these statements. are these statements and others like it true? is there any such thing as "healthy competition"? i'm beginning to wonder what that word even means any more. a member of my church softball team recently sent this email out to the whole team:
Most teams I have played with from 1978 on would bury an opposing player for making an error, striking out or any other gaf. Any potential for taking a thin skinned player out of his game and into his head was considered good hard nosed baseball and a tribute to a hard working group of bench jocks who looked for any edge they could get. If you didn't like it you could go play coed high arc.

The team I play with in the hispanic league in Vineland hits anywhere from 3-7 home runs a game on average and after every home run the whole team lines the third base line and high fives the runners coming home after which - it gets worse - they all get in a huddle and with a rising drawn out scream 15 voices yell "BOMBA" (Bomb in English). We all fall over laughing, the fifty fans cheer, the ump shakes his head trying to hide his laughter and the other team makes faces and threats. It angers some of the other players but also strikes fear and teams know that if they don't bring their "A" game every play we will bury them on every little mistake they make every chance we get. The cheer goes on whether we are up five-one or down five-one, regardless, look out 'cause we're coming after you.

And at the end of every year we get calls from half the players in the league begging us to give them a shot at playing on our team. Every year the other teams recruit heavily, all with the same intention - to beat us or the 1 or 2 other teams that are solid beasts who will bury you unmercilessly on any given chance. Killer instinct - talk about an edge.
i don't know about you, but i was a bit taken aback when i first read the email. in order not to take this individual's email out of context, he was trying to get our team motivated for the playoffs because we have been accused of being soft. but the scene he is describing is sort of a disgrace to the sport if you ask me. i would have been ashamed to be a fan at those games and there's no way i would have let my son watch me be a part of humiliating the other team.

so what is healthy competition? i think sports should be about physical health, sportsmanship and fun. i think it should instill hard work and learning to work as a team towards a common goal. winning is secondary, but it has become primary. i also think we need to have a healthy view towards professional sports where winning actually means something and these leagues that mean nothing.

i'd really love some feedback about this issue. what message should we be sending our kids? should we allow sports to dominate out family life? at the same time, sports are fun and important for physical and to a large degree mental development. but they can also be a detriment to mental development. how do we find a healthy balance? more importantly, how do we redeem a good thing in our culture that is clearly gone awry?


At 10:23 PM, July 14, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Well, I think that you said it best, when you said that it should be about sportsmanship and fun. That’s what we should teach our kids (I’m saying our, even though I don’t have any). When I played little league, that’s what my father and my little Sandlot league taught me, to play fair, work hard, and have fun.

You haven’t really seen programmers in action. We all try an outdo each other, but we are always willing to let the other guy learn from us. We push each other and at the same time, we pull those who need a hand. We can yell and curse at each other about the format of a date, all in good fun, and then go out and have a beer. You both strive to do your best, and when the other guy pulls ahead of you, he causes you to want to work harder.

So what is healthy competition? Well, it comes from mutual respect and mutual benefit. If you respect each other and you agree that you both should grow from the experience, then that is healthy competition. The same thing goes for sports. You should be able to win or lose, play tough, and at the end of the day, learn from what you did right and what you did wrong. You should be able to go out and have a beer with the guys you played against. If you win, that’s great. If you lose, well, you learn, and better luck next time.

I think that we need to teach our children how to lose. I went to a very liberal school, which was, at times, almost anti-competition. We need to prepare our children for life. In life, sometimes you lose, even if you did your best. Sometimes the other guy wins, even though you worked harder or are a “better guy”. When we teach our children to disrespect each other, then that’s a problem. When we act like little Bridger is going to be the next Hank Aaron and forget that the game should be fun for him, then that is a problem too. We, as the adults, need to learn how to have fun too sometimes.

At 8:42 AM, July 27, 2005, Blogger Rebecca said...

In our family, we're really not into team sports, or even into what we often refer to as "the ball sports". There are a whole bunch of reasons for this, but one of them is that we have not been overly impressed with the "fruit" of involvement in team sports. I grew up being told ad nauseum how character building team sports were; yet this message was contradicted strongly by the actions, attitudes, and poor characters of almost all the jocks in school. To say nothing of many professional ball players!

However, I am all for healthy competition. In our family, our greatest competitive experience involves the martial arts. We have found that we have avoided many of the pitfalls of team sports, such as:

•the ridicule and ill treatment given those who "let down the team"

•the lack of opportunity for less skilled players (either they don't make the team or are forced to be benchwarmers)

•the glory hogs who insist on dominating every play

•the coaching extremes of "It's all about the team winning" or "It's not at all about competition"

•the overemphasis on "the team"

•the lack of opportunities for family members to compete together

•the excuse-making and blaming when a team loses ("It was all Buford's fault!" "I'm tired of all these losers on my team!")

•the wild displays of poor sportsmanship such as the one described in the post

We have chosen to be involved in a particular tournament circuit that is highly competitive and yet that reinforces the lessons we are trying to teach our children.

When we "lose", we have no one to blame but ourselves --- or we simply have to accept that, on that particular day, someone else was better than us. We can't blame our teammates. Instead, we cheer them on, help them prepare for competition, and use each tournament as a learning experience and a way of bettering ourselves.

When we win (and we have more trophies than we know what to do with) we do so graciously and humbly. We don't high five people and yell and scream and dance around wildly, with fists thrust in the air. We simply bow, accept our trophy, and shake hands with our judges and referees. And then we celebrate with quiet restraint and lots of hugs off to the side.

People who have been involved in team sports are often hugely disappointed in how we don't do big ego displays when we win, and how no one in our tournament circuit rubs their victory in the face of those they "defeated". One student, observing the dignified restraint of a young woman who had just won the National Weapons Grand Championship, said, "She doesn't seem very excited. If I had won, I'd be yelling 'YES!' and jumping up and down."

Instead of mocking our fellow competitiors, we treat them with respect. They are the first ones we bow to after our victory is announced.

I've had the experience of trading blows and kicks with my oponents, crashing to the floor together while still fighting, even being knocked out briefly --- and then hugging each other at the end of the match.

To me, that's healthy competition.


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