My answer to the question posed above is “it all depends.” And that answer is not a cop out because competition can be good or bad depending upon the competitors and the circumstances. All of us who have competed know from experience that it can be good or bad.
Those who watched the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers play a couple of weeks ago saw how it can be bad when one player ripped off an opponent’s helmet and hit him with it. Like many, I enjoy watching a variety professional games, but I am also disappointed more than I would like.
Earlier this week I read two headlines that disappointed me. One headline reported “Washington Capitals’ Garnet Hathaway ejected for spitting during nasty brawl vs. Anaheim Ducks” (for those may not know, those are hockey teams). The other headline reported “Houston Astros World Series DVD may show team’s alleged cheating set-up.”
I’m concerned by the bad example set by too many professional athletes for our children and grandchildren, but I am equally impressed by the sportsmanship of those who set a good example for those watching.
While a very few really don’t care if they lose, the saying “Nobody likes to lose” describes most of us. Not liking to lose, however, doesn’t make competition bad. It’s a participant’s attitude and actions resulting from a loss that can be bad.
There is a lot to absorb from Grantland Rice’s oft-quoted maxim “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” And I would add to how you play the game, how you handle losing or winning. Obviously it’s ok to be happy and celebrate a win, but very unbecoming to gloat and/or denigrate your opponent(s) who lost.
What troubles me the most is the disappointment, erosion of confidence, and self-deprecation many children and young people seem to feel following a loss in competition. Dealing with that is a special challenge for parents and grandparents.
It’s in those situations that we can try to help them appreciate the fun of simply competing and underscore the point that how they played is as important as winning. That’s not easy, of course (as we well know ourselves), but we can plant some seeds for the future.
I also think former Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel made an important observation when he said about the outcome of a game, “It’s how you respond to that result that makes the difference in your future.”
Two final thoughts. I don’t like one phrase in this dictionary definition of competition: “The activity of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others” (emphasis added). Also, and patting myself on the back, I don’t mind losing in Candyland to our youngest grandson, losing a nerf gun game to our older grandson, losing in golf when I play my son, losing in Scrabble to my wife, and losing in Jeopardy when I play my daughter.
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