Competition and Namaste, Not Mutually Exclusive
Sports competitions are designed to determine who is the “best” of the competitors. In training, athletes on soccer fields, in gymnasiums, in pools, are all trying to get better so they can win. There’s a lot that comes with winning, people will say winners earn respect, they have bragging rights, glory. At the highest levels, there are also sponsorships, cash prizes, and more. Given all that comes with winning, there’s of course even incentive to break the rules in order to win.
I grew up playing soccer through high school and tennis through college at the University of Delaware. I was very competitive when I played, in the sense that I wanted to train hard, give it my all, and play to win. I enjoyed the competition of summer practices on the tennis courts with my two best friends, and enjoying more the thrill of a point well played by both of us and at the end finding that it didn’t matter who really won the point. But I would not consider myself a great competitor at that time. I would get down on myself, get frustrated at myself and teammates at times, and get upset when I or my team lost. My performance in the most crucial tennis matches would suffer because I was worried about losing.
Pride and bragging rights were really important. I wanted that for myself. The transition from high school to college athletics brought a whole new level of competition. University of Delaware was a Division I team. While I was a decent player from a suburban Pennsylvania Dutch county, there were girls trying out for the team who came from all over the east coast, with much greater talent than I had. I was lucky to have made the team. I am grateful I was able to play for UofD for 4 years. In addition to the fear of losing, there was the fear of losing one’s spot on the team to better players. I was harder on myself than I had ever been in high school and found myself not enjoying playing or competing at all. What made all the difference was the fact that in addition to playing singles, I also played doubles, and I had a fantastic partner in my now long-time friend, Mary. She had no patience for the nonsense of nervousness, plus, she made me laugh. And, I had a great coach. Coach LeRoy got to the heart of it one time. She said well, if you lose, what does that make you? I said, “a loser.” So we held that and looked at it and I was left to consider if that was valid. This exercise stuck with me and I’ve found that I’ve tried on that question a number of times in my life in areas well outside the tennis court or soccer field.
Now, some twenty years later and the mother of two teen-agers; I’m still learning new things about competing, both from my own experience and also from that of my kids. I certainly thought that middle-class American motherhood included weekends either coaching, or at least on the sidelines of little league games, soccer tournaments, something like that. My kids’ dad and I “exposed” our kids to all of these, as per the parent manual. On opening day of my son’s second season of little league, my son turned to his dad and said, “I’m not doing this again next year.” Both my kids love hiking and my son especially enjoys karate, but neither enjoyed any type of traditional competitive sport, until this year at age 15 when my son fell in love with Ultimate Frisbee and joined the high school club team.
While Ultimate Frisbee has a field set up and objectives similar to other field sports (score the most points by moving an object from one end to the other), there is something unique to Ultimate Frisbee called “Spirit of the Game.” I saw evidence of this before I knew it was essentially official philosophy. For example, there were no referees at games. Girls played along with boys, and there was only encouragement about their participation. Players from opposing teams would help each other up after diving to be the one to snatch the Frisbee before it drifted to the field. This past weekend, players from opposing teams at the City Tournament couldn’t come to a clear agreement on whether a goal was valid or not. Instead of belaboring the the point, they decided the goal via the “rock papers scissors” method. Everything matters, nothing matters.
“Spirit of the Game” From the Official Ultimate Frisbee USA rules:
From Section 1. Introduction, item B. “Spirit of the Game. Ultimate relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors, adherence to the agreed upon rules, or the basic joy of play. Protection of these vital elements serves to eliminate unsportsmanlike conduct from the Ultimate field. Such actions as taunting opposing players, dangerous aggression, belligerent intimidation, intentional infractions, or other ‘win-at-all-costs’ behavior are contrary to the Spirit of the Game and must be avoided by all players.”
My son is thoroughly enjoying competing for the first time at age 15, and I’m thrilled.
And as for myself, I still love competing too, these days most often in a Crossfit gym. I am a half decent local competitor. Maybe because Crossfit is so inherently masculine with the barbells and loud music, it became apparent that there needed to be some balance with more gentle practices like meditation, qigong, and yoga. At the end of many yoga classes, you’ll hear the word, “namaste.” One of my girlfriends has been studying to become a yoga teacher and she only recently told me one interpretation of that word: “The light in me sees the light in you.” Those moments when we must leave ourselves unguarded, keep nothing hidden, reveal ourselves and see what the other reveals to us.
Strangely enough, I experience namaste most easily when I am competing with a partner in a competition where the objective of the game is to win! If as a team, we make our objective to train hard, and do our best, then on game day, what is most important is that we keep none of our weaknesses hidden from each other, and that we are not shy about our strengths. We must be honest with ourselves and honest with each other. The conversation is like this, me, “I’m not feeling so strong on pull ups today, that’s your strength so how about you do 8 each round and I’ll do 6.” Melissa, “Ok. then the deadlifts. that’s your best lift. You do as many as you can at the heavy weight then I”ll drop down to the lower weight and then finish them off.” As for our fellow competitors, we are driving each other to reach our potential. Sometimes there is tension between teams, but again, a sport known for its camaraderie, the desire is that fellow competitors bring their A-games and put up a good fight, and share a hug when the clock stops. The light in me sees the light in you. Winning has become increasingly irrelevant and competing is intrinsically enjoyable, no matter how bad the judge, no matter what place we finish. Grateful for namaste experiences in the midst of Crossfit and competitive mayhem.