I’ve spent the last eight years worth of summers in basketball gyms all across the country. I’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of incredibly talented players throughout that time. The things kids can do now in third or fourth grade on the basketball court weren’t common for seventh or eighth graders just five years ago. Their skill and talent is off the charts.
But, I wouldn’t want 98% of them on my team.
Why? They don’t know how to compete.
That’s right, competing is a learned skill. Just like running or jumping, some are bent more towards competition than others. However, I will always be of the belief that we all can continue to improve our ability to compete.
The problem isn’t a lack of competition.
It’s the unwillingness to express the importance of competing.
Why Should We Care?
The ‘everyone gets a ribbon’ and ‘no one loses’ movements may help our confidence - though I would argue it’s false confidence - but it’s also crippling the desire for people to compete.
Kids and adults alike will tap out at the first sign of challenge, struggle, or God-forbid failure. We continue to hold on to the false pretense that losing or failing is bad. As if it damages our psyche and paralyzes our motivation to continue moving forward.
Competing places us directly in the crosshairs. When we compete, there is a chance we fail. Without that chance, it’s not a competition. Likewise, competition calls for a winner. We can’t eliminate the potential for a loss while maintaining the possibility for a win.
Our societal judgment of success as ‘good’ and failure as ‘bad’ is leading us to an apathetic approach to competition. And, we know it to not be true at all … yet we continue. We keep highlighting it, writing about it in the papers, and covering it on the tv. We glorify success while making failure the villain.
Those that truly compete don’t follow the rules. They are preparing then testing, preparing then testing, preparing then testing. The result still holds feelings of excitement or disappointment, but only in the moment. They are not ruled by their emotions connected to the perceived good or bad. They are experimenters, constantly challenging their current state, free from the entitlement of success or the embarrassment of failure.
It’s a beautiful thing.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
Helping those we lead become better competitors is just as much within our responsibilities as any other skill would be. A healthy relationship with competition is the goal, not an elimination of it.
I love to watch people that compete, freely and ferociously. Their experimental mindset is inspiring and challenges me to continue competing in my life. They don’t need a prize or pat on the back. They just compete because it’s who they are. They compete because.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.