Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Competition and Winning

What is your goal? Are you out to win? Are you to compete against yourself or the field? These questions are important questions to ask ourselves and reflect upon when looking at our culture.

I believe we have lost perspective on what competition is and what it means to win. When looking at our culture, it is often that people will spare almost no means to win. If you have been paying attention, over the last number of years the talk of performance enhancing drugs in sport has dominated the news and in many ways smeared the accomplishments of many. The fact is whether or not these athletes did or did not use performance enhancing drugs they still had to do the work and challenge themselves to be able to compete at the highest level. No doubt the drugs will help the process but we must not ignore the effort put forth to be their best.

To me the real challenge is that we have to go to such extent that as an athlete we would be willing to risk our health and well-being to achieve a mark, a record, a number that most likely will be beaten at some point.

In my humble opinion the real competition, the true victory lies in the competition within ourselves to push our limits to achieve our best with class, integrity, and dignity. However, this has been lost in many ways within our win at all cost culture and our bigger, better, stronger, faster, more, more society that judges people on their numbers or lack thereof.

I argue that we need to turn the page and the nature of our culture to a cooperative competition, one that rewards not only the winner but those who are striving along with said 'winner' to be their best and push the whole field of competitors to their best.

Example: From Thinking Body, Dancing Mind by Al Huang & Lynch

In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens who held the long jump record fouled in his first 2 attempts to qualify. Germany's top long jumper, Lutz Long approached Jesse and gave him a tactical suggestion. Owens followed the advice, qualified and then beat Long in the finals, establishing an Olypmic Record in the process. Long proceeded to hold Owen's hand high in the air in front of thousands of cheering spectators and left the stadium hand in hand.

This is a perfect example of two athletes, two people working as partners toward optimal performance. We should be thankful for our opponents, for they represent gifts that enable us to experience the process of sport of being our best and they are great teachers who push us to heights we might not have achieved without them.

From Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, a quote from Dick Taylor, Olympic BiAthlete:

"It is a ritual, a highly compacted human experience situation ...It is a measure of our curiosity about optimum human possibility ... the sustenance coming from a shared sense that all are relatively more alive from having 'died' a little as well. The experience of expanded personal potential and relatively with other humans is both profound and rare... a deeper sense of belonging, to oneself and to a community. Self-confirmation happens simultaneously with a community venture...ultimately making a winner of everybody."

Billie Jean King, Tennis Champion said about winning that "it is not a big deal. The real joy comes from the very thing that involves people in the first place...the fun of execution, the fun of playing." The key is focusing on the 'moment' and the inner gratification.

If winning is unimportant, why keep score?
"As a TaoAthlete the outcome of any event is important-but not as an end in itself. Keeping score enables you to measure your performance level throughout the event and get an indication of how you are progressing over a period of time."

Important points on Competition and Winning from Thinking Body, Dancing Mind
*Let the possibility of winning keep you alert and sharp.
*If you, terrific, if not, feel the joy and satisfication of having participated.
*Focus on how well you are mastering the skills.
*Notice how the event provided you with an opportunity to display your skills against challenging competition.
*Win or lose you have to dig down inside and discover other aspects of your essence.

This brought to my own story. I have had the pleasure and opportunity to compete and win a multitude of times. In particular I reflect back to my adventure racing days. During those times and the races I competed with my teammates in we were fortunate to always enjoy ourselves, create great memories, challenge ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually and as a team, push our own personal abilities/limits, learn the value of friendship, communication and teamwork, and of course compete against the highest level of competition, the best of the best.

One particular season, our teams last I combined with just one teammate, Toby. We competed in the Tahoe Big Blue Adventure Racing Series in the, you guessed it, 2 person all male division. For the first time ever, we actually won a race, one in which I struggled mightly the whole race with severe cramps and dehydration (95 degrees in the hot/humid desert of Reno, NV). With a bit of luck we came out on top.

In our second race, I again struggled with the high 98 degree temperatures and fought another bout of dehydration. As the race came to the last quarter mile we saw our toughest competitors in front of us. Toby and I sprinted only to fall less than 5 seconds behind. The thrill of that moment, of being pushed by those men and almost running them down was one of the best feelings, in fact better than the victory. At the end of the race, post-race celebration we shared a beer and reminisced knowing that the overall championship was going to come down to our 2 teams and indeed it did.

OUr last race was in Tahoe, no heat or dehydration, just a tactical error that cost us 30 minutes and essentially the race. However, we did not know where we stood and often in Adventure Racing on the 12 hour events you do not know where you are. There are many routes to the finish line and tactical decisions, trusting your teammates instincts, etc. play an important role as does fueling the body and fitness levels. On this day we pushed hard to the end only to find our competitors eating food, relaxing having finished about 25 minutes ahead of us....we were close.

In the end it was an exhilirating experience and one which my friend and I cherish to this day. We had developed a healthy perspective and a certain level of friendship with our fellow competitors, often sharing information and helping with food/water when needed. Even with prizes and 'pride' the bigger picture was always in sight. Did we want to win, YES, but that was just another aspect of a much bigger event. Great times and memories, no regrets.

It is what it is, take it for what it is worth and thank you for your time,


Aaron Friday said...

Nice message, Joe. I never "won" anything except experience that made me feel good. Except for a combat sport, I'd gladly help out a competitor if it made him perform better, even against me. The way I see it, we're interested in the same things and should be friends. I want to see my friends do well.

Joe Sarti said...

I like that response. Very well said and thank you. We are friends and should definitely remain that way. The way I see is we can all contribute positively to the success and well being of one another...thank you for your contributions