Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Competitive Life

Sports Training

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” 
Thomas Paine


Summit SeriesIn this iconic photo, Paul Henderson (no. 19) and Yvan Cournoyer (no. 12) celebrate the goal that won the Summit Series in Moscow, Soviet Union, September 28, 1972. This is without a doubt the most famous moment in hockey: Paul Henderson of Canada scores against Vladislav Tretiak of the USSR with 34 seconds left in the final game (Game 8) of the series, which Canada won by a score of 6–5, winning the series 4–3–1. The Russians, most notably Tretiak, were formidable opponents. This was known in Canada as the Canada-Russia series, which millions of Canadians watched—this includes me. This final and pivotal game was the only time I missed school without a “valid reason,” taking the afternoon off with my friends. Well, as many Canadians from this generation know and can attest, there was a valid reason—this has become an important part of Canadian history. You can view the highlights of the last game, which shows this goal, here.
Photo Credit: ©Frank Lennon, Canadian Press, 1972
Source: CBC

If sports teaches you anything, it is that in competition, the better team or player wins. There are winners and there are losers. It is both a simple and elegant statement as one can make. No matter what one thinks of sports, of its utility to society, it can and does teach many people valuable and important lessons that can be transferred to school, to work, to life. Yes, this makes sports a metaphor of life.

One can, for example, deny that life is competitive, but after a while an inescapable conclusion hits you: the denial is fabricated from wishful thinking. People compete all the time, not only in sports, but also in school, in work, in business, in international relations, in dating, and in mating. It is natural and normal, a human instinct, to want the best for yourself and for your offspring, and by extension for your school, business and nation. Thus, competition is normal, and the best understand this and easily and quickly adapt to its requirements.

If I have been reluctant to admit this, it is a reluctance based on the ideas of equality, fairness and opportunity, and that competition can also be a negative. Yet, as much as I would like such noble ideas to prevail, the world does not primarily operate on such premises. It operates on achievement, on competition and on battles both intellectual and physical that are based to a large degree on making the necessary effort to win.

Undoubtedly, we ought to strive to make the world a better place, but at the same time, we need recognize that we are all, to some extent, competing for both what we need and what we want, In terms of fairness, all sports have written rules and there are penalties for breaking them. This makes the playing field even, yet as this said, there are many cases where a person has to “fight” to get on it. Often, this is not easy, which raises the issues of character, of dedication, of courage and of perseverance—all enduring sports metaphors. There is satisfaction in winning; in beating your opponent in a fair competition. This is called good sportsmanship [for example, see The Good Sport].

So, while the value of sports can be over-stated, it can also be under-stated. I played a lot of sports when I was young, and also watched a lot of sports, both on TV and at various arenas and stadiums. This has contributed to my understanding of the world and my development as a human being—even if I have not always put these ideas into play in my professional life. My reluctance to do so is something that I need examine, to see if it has hindered me in achieving my potential as a human being. Even now, it seems that I am finding out things about myself.

On one hand success has its own rewards; and on the other hand competition can be stressful. Such internal conflict can easily prevent someone from achieving success. How one resolves such conflicts is important, not only to achieving success, but to do so with a minimum of conflict.

There is always the future tomorrow, which begins with earnest preparation and training today. Now that I have returned to sports and the training required to achieve a measure of personal success, my thinking is beginning to change in crucial areas—notably in regards to positive views of the competitive life. There is no achieving success without understanding the basis of competition, which includes finding (and doing) your personal best.

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For an excellent article on what the Summit Series meant for Canadians, go to [TheAtlantic].