I was that parent with the aching back, sitting on stiff bleachers Saturday morning. We do what we have to do for our kids from the time they are born. Spending a weekend at a swim meet cheering my daughter on seemed easy compared to some of the other responsibilities required of me. The thing about parenting is this…we may look like we have it all together but on the inside we are falling apart. As the words of the National Anthem echoed in the natatoriun, that sick feeling I get in response to nerves started to take hold of my stomach. This would be the last regional meet to decide if she went onto states. Friday’s meet resulted in some slow times and I was dying inside to get this session of finals over with once and for all. I saw her step on the blocks and my heart sank. I held my breath as I watched her fly across the pool. I waited for that ball to drop. So many other times she had been out ahead but this time, something was different. This time I watched her fight through the pain. I saw the pure desire and will to win carry her across the water at a speed I had never seen before. For years she had swam in someone else’s shadow but that would not be the case today. Today was her time to shine. The amount of time it took me to focus on the scoreboard seemed like hours. There was her name with a big 1st place glowing like a blazing fire next to it. I could barely choke back the tears. I was so proud of her because I have watched her work endless hours over a span of 12 years. This was her moment, the payoff and just thinking back on it brings a smile to my face. Those bleachers weren’t so bad after all. It was an amazing day.
Friendly competition. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before but I can’t help but ask myself, is competition REALLY friendly? Does it always bring out the best in everyone and make for a great race, or is there more beneath the surface we pretend we do not see? We want to be the best. We want to win, the problem with that is there can only ever be one real winner. When you are part of a team sport that is also individual, and you are competing with the people you consider friends, the reality can be a little disturbing.
“Competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal you’ll get sick.” George Leonard
I believe it’s easy to feel constantly torn between being jealous of the people who are natural born winners and frustrated that your own time, effort, and hard work never seems to be enough to give you that edge to get ahead. What is a person supposed to do with that? Some might say try harder, practice more, give more effort, but sometimes you’re already giving it all you’ve got.
“Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people” Nido Qubein
Perhaps this is the main difference. I know athletes who are constantly writing down goals. They come up with a plan on how to get from where they are to where they want to be. They are specific and focused and as soon as they cross one goal off the list, they add another one on. For others though, their goal is to always win or to beat a particular athlete that brings out their competitive spirit. There is a big difference in the thinking of both types of athletes.
“The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time” Henry Ford
I am on my way to my daughters state swim competition, I guess that is what made me thing about all of this in the first place. Of course I want her to do well. I guess if I could say anything to her today, it would be this;
“If you can’t win, make the guy ahead of you break the record” Evan Esar
In the end, if you can walk away knowing you gave it your very best with no regrets, then never look back, keep looking ahead. When it comes down to it, friendly competition is possible to a certain degree but the most important person you will ever compete against is yourself.
“Look in the mirror…that’s your competition” Evan Carmichael
Let your goal always be to better yourself. Beat your own times, reach your own goals and always do the best you can. That is what winning is all about.
“Winners build on mistakes. Losers dwell on them” Arnold Mori
Perhaps the previous quote is the most differential factor in which athletes succeed and which athletes don’t. Maybe when it comes down to it, attitude is the most important factor of all. A true winner knows that there will always be someone better, faster. To win big, one must strive to swim a perfect race from start to finish and not get caught up in what place they are in when the race is over. And then, in the morning, drag yourself out of bed and practice harder than you’ve ever practiced before. Then drink some chocolate milk and go back and do it all again.
Sure, that’s what they tell us when we don’t win. Keep your chin up, hold your head high and know you did your very best. If winning isn’t everything, then what is it exactly?
I have watched my son play basketball for five years. In that five year period, I have watched him lose nearly every single time. I have watched him leave his blood and sweat and every ounce of strength he had out on that court. I have watched him stare at the scoreboard each and every time the score was close. I have watched him fight back tears of disappointment every car ride home while we told him he did a great job. I have watched him question how he could lose every game when he played with his entire heart. As a parent, it ripped at my heart. When the color would drain from his face and I could see the disappointment in his eyes, I could feel my heart break inside my chest. Every year I’d tell him “this is the one” and every year would play out exactly the same disappointing way. He loved playing basketball but was it really worth all the pain? We tell ourselves it’s about the lesson and learning to persevere when the stakes are high. The truth is, nobody wants to lose. It doesn’t feel good ever and the only thing it reinforces is we can give something our very best and our best may never be good enough.
I write a lot about balance. I think when it comes to winning, balance is important too. It can’t be good to win every time or to lose every time. Both teach valuable lessons. Both are important. Tonight my son had his first middle school game. The odds were stacked against us and I must admit it was a miracle that put us one point ahead at the end of that game. Tonight, winning meant everything to my little boy. All his hard work, all his disappointment replaced in a single moment with a winning score. Tonight my heart is full and I will fall asleep with a smile on my face. Yes, winning isn’t everything but it sure feels good.