Monday, July 13, 2009

Is it about playing or winning?

I spent some much-needed time with family this past weekend; kid time is always good time... well, once you figure out how to get them to stop fighting over you.

My nephew is playing baseball this summer and his team has been doing very well. I'd planned to see him play on Friday night, but the other team didn't have enough players and had to forfeit. It dawned on me to ask, "Would you rather play and potentially lose or not play and win by forfeit?"

"Win by forfeit," he said.

"But you don't get to play," I clarified.

"But we win, right?" he replied.

He was right, they do win and I was right, they don't get to play. I remember when my Grandpa used to tell me about packing a sack lunch in the morning and walking to the baseball field. If two guys were there, then they'd play hot box. With three guys they could play Over the Line and, with more guys, they'd eventually be able to field full teams and play ball until they had to scamper home before dark.

PLAY ball, not WIN ball.

Why has our culture, maybe even the world, placed so much emphasis on the competition and not the activity? My phone is better than yours. My musical tastes are so much more interesting than yours. My life is better than yours. My car is cooler than yours. All of this points to some objective panel out there that determines what really matters in the world, when we all know that no such panel exists. Comparing phones or musical interests has nothing to do with some objective evaluation, your phone works for you and my phone works for me.

End of story.

In competition there are always winners and losers. If we make everything in life about a competition, then we'll always have winners and losers. Someone will win in a relationship and someone will lose. Someone will be a loser. Do you really want to spend all of your time in a relationship trying to beat your partner? No, I don't either. We have to accept that we will have differences between us and it doesn't make one trait better than the other.

I want to feel lucky that I've found love, not that I've won it be knocking over some milk bottles at a carnival. I want to be in a relationship where we work out problems together, not compete to see who can figure out the answer first. Or worse, play the "he said, she said" game everyday because we aren't able to communicate in the first place and someone needs to win.

I don't want to live in a world where I feel lucky that I won by forfeit; I want to feel lucky that had the opportunity to play.

What about you?


Amy Shropshire said...

I grew up with competition as I was a 4-H kid for 11 years. But I think what it taught me was to lose with dignity and win with grace. I loved it when I went home with the blue ribbon, but I learned more about myself when I didn't.

The other problem is that people that only want to win have a tendency to change the rules to benefit them - especially in relationships...

KS said...

Playing, of course. I would much rather play and win than forfeit. Although, during a few town softball games, when the forfeit was the only game we won-won't lie-felt ok. :)

It seems like we are afraid to let children lose or fail. We all want the best (I have no children, so I am going on what parents I know say) for the kids, and it hurts us when they lose. Why is that? Don't we all need to know how to "lose with dignity and win with grace", as Amy said. But how do they children learn that now?

Competition in relationships-is there ever really a winner? Shouldn't you both be on each other's team?

Robert Zamees said...

I've played soccer my entire life and even when we win by forfeit, we always put together a pick up game with however many players are still around and play.

Karrie hit on my concern... in this world of instant gratification that we've created, winning at all costs has also become a real desire; the pleasure is in the outcome and not the activity itself.

Finish the book, beat the video game, win the championship... I don't have kids, but it seems that's what we are teaching and I'm not sure how to incite massive change when all the other parents in the neighborhood are emphasizing the win.

KS said...

To add to that: It seems like it is hard enough to get the kids outside. When I was growing up, we LIVED outside. My sister and I would play our own softball game-just the two of us with our old farm dog.

We didn't have video games, cable. Didn't watch a lot of TV. We just loved being outside and riding bikes, exploring the magic of the farm.

I don't really know how to phrase my next thought, so I will just wing it. I think competition is good-it can defiantly go over board, but what happens when it isn't there at all? Specifically in little kid sports. Is it good to give everyone a trophy/ribbon for participation?

I have heard parents comment on their smaller children’s little town leagues where they don't play by score. Game lasts one hour, and then go home. No winners, no losers. Is this what we want?

Competition: is it the act of the game and playing the game, or is it an attitude about the game and play?

Robert Zamees said...

My friends don't let their kids run around outside as much anymore because of all the bad people that could swoop them up. Unfortunate, but true.

I definitely think competition is good and I don't think everyone should get a trophy that's going to end up in a landfill sooner or later. Competition breeds motivation to improve. No doubt about it. But, when improvement is only about winning, then is that improvement worthwhile? I'd have to say, "No." Improvement has to be about being a better person because of your failures and successes; you can only test your improvement on the field, win or lose, and that is why you play... for the enjoyment of the game itself and what it teaches you.

KS said...

Very nicely put. I agree. Now, how do we convey that to our future children without them rolling their eyes at us?

About playing outside-not so bad when neaest neighbor is a mile away, and you live in no-wheres IA. Which is why we were only able to play a two person game. The dog never quite caught on :)

Robert Zamees said...

That's always the next question, "How do we create long-lasting change?" Today's kids, how do they learn? By listening? By doing? By example?

We're talking about the Silent Generation, born in 2000 and more recent that'r following the Millenials--they're format for learning is experiential and exploratory. Who knows what it will be for the Silent Ones.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in a place that used Gallup personality tools, I no longer see it as either/or. It's BOTH.

Some people are exceptionally talented at strategy, and your nephew may fall into this category. Others may be talented (and more rewarded by) physical activity.

It doesn't have to be about what we SHOULD like. Your nephew likes one thing. You like another. Let it be.

Robert Zamees said...

I'd like to reply objectively this morning; not in reference to my nephew or any other specific child.

When Anony Mous says that it should be about both "playing" and "winning," well of course it should! I don't believe that we live in a black and white, this or that, on or off, either/or world. It's not as simple as that. The world is made up of shades of gray. The world is a dial, not a switch.

My concern lies in this statement, "Well, if I'm not going to win, then I don't want to play." There is a lost concept in there somewhere; the lost concept of improvement. If kids won't play video games, real games, study, etc. because they know that someone else is better than them, then we are in a whole bunch of trouble. Playing and winning MUST both be part of the equation because that is how you measure the hard work that you've put in... did I work hard enough to win? No? Then I need to work harder. Did I work hard enough to win? Yes. Then I need to keep working that hard.

Enjoy the hard work and the evaluation... that's what I feel we need to impart emphatically.