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Competition: What’s Healthy And What’s Unhealthy?



When it comes to raising kids, there has been a lot of debate over the use of competition to spur children on; is it a good thing that helps them strive to be better, or something that stifles them and stunts growth if they don’t measure up to their opponents? The latter view has seen some schools go to such lengths to avoid the negative effects of competition that they impose a ban on sports days and don’t release test results for all to see, but I’d imagine that even these measures fail at killing off the competitive spirit entirely. We like to measure ourselves against one another as it gives us an opportunity to excel (at least comparatively) and to feel that we are good at something.

The winner of a running race doesn’t go on to think that they are intrinsically a better person than the people they out-runs, they just get satisfaction from knowing that they are the best in the field and that is a thrill that they are entitled to.

The person who loses will surely win in a different field, so it all evens out in the end (even though at school it often seems that a sport is the only field worthy of respect). Of course, competition can sometimes be stifling, the number of guitarists that won’t pick up their instrument after hearing Jimmy Hendrix transcend the boundaries of human ability, knowing that they will never in a million years measure up, attests to that.

Removing Restrictions

Pitting ourselves against our imagined future self with all potential restrictions removed is something that we often struggle with; straddling the fine line between self-acceptance and pushing to overcome our worst traits for a better tomorrow.

Trying to compete with someone who we simply cannot beat can set us back, but only because we fail to put ourselves in the right league and work up from there one step at a time. Healthy competition, when you find a group of people roughly on your level, is a pleasure; you are spurred on to push yourself further than before, smashing personal barriers and reaching the heights of whichever discipline you most enjoy.

This is important as nobody likes to go up against someone that will easily beat them, but similarly, no one enjoys facing somebody they know they will easily beat because where is the fun in that? Recently, in

Spain, there was a matador who broke down halfway through a bull-fight, hit hard by the realization that this beast meant him no harm, that it was cajoled into fighting him but even then didn’t want to and that the odds were stacked harshly against it. It was not only cruel but unsportsmanlike. This is a strong image of poor competition.

Work Hard, Compete Hard

In the workplace, competition can impede good working practice and starve ideas of the creativity they would benefit from receiving from co-operation or individual effort. An overly ambitious worker may try to make their colleagues look bad so that they shine in comparison, or group work could see dominant personalities run with the ball because the quieter ones don’t care to get into a power struggle and don’t care to compete for attention when all the while it might be them who have the best ideas.

So what are some good areas in which we can flex our competitive muscles in a healthy, harmless, and fulfilling way? Here are a couple of ideas.

Go to the Pub

No, I’m not talking about drinking competitions, as much fun as they are. I’m talking about a bit of healthy old competition on the pool tables, on the dartboard, or on the foosball table. Now if you’re anything like me, you’ll be lucky to hit the dartboard itself, let alone be accurate enough to compete with any decent player. You’d be better off aiming for your mate’s drink and sneakily altering the scoreboard while he’s off buying another, although to be honest it’ll probably be you going to the bar which will give you enough time to reflect upon the fact that you don’t want to play darts anymore.

Instead, why not while away the hours engaged in some heady rivalry on the pool table. No matter what their ability (within reason), people seem to love a game of pool and if abilities are mixed, then an evenly handicapped round of doubles can spice things up; especially when the teams are well matched. The same goes for foosball, a game that winds up competitive tension so tightly that a goal will have the other drinkers thinking that you are at a real football match.

Competitive Sports

There’s only so much you can get out of swimming up and down a pool on your own or going for a solo jog. Both are great; it is immensely rewarding beating your previous performances and alone time for many is valuable and relaxing, but add a competitive element to your exercise and watch how much fitter you become and how much more excitement you get out of it. The sheer burning desire to beat your opponent, to out-do yourself to overcome a superior player or to do justice to your own abilities and beat a player of a similar caliber, drives you on much further than you’d go without that competitive edge.

Your opponents will vary in style and approach from week to week as well, so you will be forced to concentrate on different aspects of your technique and improve weak spots instead of just concentrating on your forte’s. This will make you a better-rounded player with an improved general competence in your sport. Just remember to pick a league well matched to you so that you are not overwhelmed with delusions of failure or grandeur.