Melissa and Josh are watching the Olympics, as they do all sporting events, with very different perceptions of competition. This is Josh’s perspective. Melissa’s is here.
Melissa and I were watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night when an ad came on the television, that said something to the effect of, “Right now, everyone’s tied.*” Melissa approved of the ad. I did not. And we began talking a little bit about how this was reflective of our different views on competition. She likes the idea that for a moment everyone’s tied. Nobody has lost. We’re all here for the warm-and-fuzzies of participating in the Olympics. While that emotion is certainly a nice one, it just doesn’t ring true to me and I suspect for any of the athletes participating in the Games. Every single one of them came to win – even the guy who is fated to come in 25th in a field of 25 believes somewhere in his gut that he could come out of nowhere and shock the world (his brain knows better.) I think the concept of “everyone’s tied” only works as being representative of the hope that everyone, even the Moroccan skier, could be a winner.
But this raised the larger question of how to talk to the kids about competition. I was a very competitive kid. Like, waaaay too competitive when I really got into it. When I was 10 or 11 I got called-out for tagging up at third base before the ball had been caught and I flipped-out to such a degree that even Billy Martin would have been saying, “Whoa, calm down there kid, just a Little League game.” Even writing about it now, I get mad, because I had led-off the inning with a triple and I know, and I mean KNOW FOR A CERTAINTY, that I tagged up properly. That, plus the teenage umpire had a brother on the other team and I think that might have influenced the call. It’s been over twenty-five years and I’m still pissed.
Part of growing-up (and a hard part at-that) has been learning how to positively channel that competitive energy without going over the edge to the dark side. I’ve tried a couple of different approaches. One was to completely remove myself from those situations where I get too competitive. I don’t play video games, I don’t play racquetball or tennis because eventually I’ll get so into it that I’ll forget I was supposed to be having fun. Or, if I participate I have to consciously not care about winning – which usually means I lose, also no fun (plus the people you’re playing against can usually tell, and that’s no fun for them either). I’ve yet to really be able to reach what should be my goal, to try my hardest and be happy with that.
So, I admit that I am perhaps not the best role model for my kids when it comes to competition. I’d like to be as zen about it as Melissa seems to be, but I think that the desire to compete and win is an irrepressible evolutionary trait of men (and many women). Every time I think, “Maybe now I’m old enough and wise enough and mellow enough not to lose myself too much in a game” (particularly a physical one) I find that eventually, my temper and grumpy sportsmanship surfaces. Just recently I lost my temper playing Wii Fit Rhythm Parade. Let me repeat that: I lost my temper playing a game in which my Mii was dressed like a drum major marching to a beat. I thought I did pretty good by only lightly tossing the Wii remote when it was done, but apparently I didn’t toss it as lightly as I intended. Sorry ’bout that, Mel.
But here’s the thing – it wasn’t my parents who either through intent or neglect made me this way. In fact, they were usually pretty horrified by my behavior when I would go all Lou Pinella on some poor 15-year-old who only thought he was helping-out when he agreed to umpire his brother’s Little League game (NEAR-SIGHTED, CROSS-EYED MORON!). So, does anything I have to say really have any chance of influencing how my kids behave in the thick of competition? I hope so. I can already see some of myself in the Wolvog’s fits when he gets frustrated at a game.
And the Olympics is probably the best example of how to conduct oneself with intensity in competition and grace in defeat. So we’ll be watching with the kids and maybe they’ll pick-up on the fact that when you try your hardest and still lose, you can do so with pride and learn from your loss. But I also fear that they’ll pick-up on the truth that winning can be a drug, and when you’re longing for it, you are capable of behaving in ways that you won’t always be proud of. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to teach myself. Because I truly do believe that how you play really is more important than if you win or lose…
But I still think the concept of everyone being tied is kind of lame.
* If you know what ad I’m talking about please email me (notforprofitdad [at] gmail dot-com) because it is driving me crazy that I can’t remember and I’ve wasted way too much time on YouTube trying in vain to find it.