Wednesday, August 04, 2010


One of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves is engage in competition. It helps our country too. Competition to provide goods and services is what drives our economy. Competition can also drive our quest to get and stay in better shape.

But sometimes competition can get a bad rap. You’ve probably heard stories about some school programs that have begun to de-emphasize competition in the classroom, to level the playing field. The theory is it’s bad for kids to be told they’re “average.” It’s too much of a blow to their self-esteem.

Well, getting a “C” might affect their self-esteem, but what about the kids that are above average, or even at the top of their class? They deserve the recognition for all their hard work.

Frankly, getting a low grade or two might provide a little motivation and incentive for the kid that has the ability but needs to pick it up. If the grade itself doesn’t do it, I’ll bet the parents could find a way to light a fire under their butt.

Life is full of selection, and if you want to be selected, you need to be near the top. That shows you’re capable, and willing to work hard. One way competition can get out of hand though, is in youth sports. We’ve all heard the parent take it just a little too far on the soccer field or ball diamond. And I think sometimes kids can get a little too disappointed when it doesn’t go their way. Winning is good, but it isn’t everything.

It’s the process that matters, where kids learn how to push themselves beyond their limits, and how to focus on a task. It’s learning how to try hard, and sometimes, how to live with disappointment.

In the end, if you did your best, that’s pretty good. If it was good enough to come out on top—sweet! But if you come up a little short, what’s wrong with celebrating the effort of the other guys?

I’ve learned much more from my losses than from my wins. Sure, I had some 1st place finishes back when I was competing hot and heavy in Taekwondo and Jiu Jitsu tournaments. But I had many more 2nd and 3rd place finishes.

For one thing, if they beat me, they were pretty amazing, and I always appreciated that. It’s hard to argue with excellence. The other thing is that I always treated it like an education. What could I take home to work on that would make me stronger the next time?

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying to win. With a competition coming up, we’d intensify our efforts. That went a long way to keep us training, and training hard—which provided other benefits.

The one time I had a shot at 1st place in a national tournament was at Disney World some years back. I was surprised I made the finals and guess I focused a little too much on attacking and trying to win. As a result, a spinning hook kick knocked me into 2nd place and left me with a broken nose and my right cheek broken in two places.

When it happened, I just kind of sat down because I knew it was over. When the referee asked me if I could go on, I didn’t want to say I quit, so all I could think of was “I resign.” Later, I realized that I was probably in shock due to the injuries.

As a result of that match, and a couple other injuries, the national Master’s council decided to make face shields mandatory, and now thousands of kids and adults have a little extra protection. Sometimes I wonder if we’re all a little lazier about blocking now, knowing we have that shield, but I guess it’s better than a kick in the head!

I’m always encouraging people to sign up for different 5 K races, half or full marathons (depending on their capabilities), trail runs and bike rides. It’s not so they’ll win the event, because that’s usually pretty unlikely for people new to running or riding. It’s because they’ll have to train for the event, and that will keep them focused.

Then, during the race, they’ll always push a little harder, because others are pushing too. It’s also quite inspiring, when you see others that are better than you. Of course, it can also be a little demoralizing so you need to keep perspective.

I remember my second marathon. The first one was a disaster with a knee injury. The second one was only a little better and I was at about mile 25, just kind of plugging along, when I heard “How you doing honey?”

As that registered, this sweet older lady caught up to me. She must have been at least 65, possibly 70. I told her I was fine, but that it was pretty tough. She slapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s O.K. Sweety, we can do it” and took off!

I tried my best but she pulled away from me and finished a couple minutes ahead of me. I came to find out was that she’d been running for years and does a bunch of races every season. But for a couple years, anytime I was out training, I thought of grandma.

Even when we’re competing with others, we’re really competing with ourselves. We’re trying to bring out our best performance. If we can learn how to live up to our true potential, that’s when we really become winners!

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