I’ve spent this weekend like I spend a majority of my weekends, watching kids compete. This weekend I watched my Speech & Debate team competing Friday night and all day Saturday, and then on Sunday, I watched my own son compete in the final day of a hockey tournament.

When I got to the hockey tournament, all the other parents asked me how my debaters did.  Did we win? How many trophies?  That’s all anybody cared about.

Late Sunday afternoon as we drove home while the rest of the country watched two football teams compete, I listened to my husband ask for at least the hundredth time, “who the hell did the hockey schedule this year? Why was there a tournament TODAY?  It’s the SUPERBOWL!”  He banned all radio or access to anything that might give away clues as to the game’s outcome as he and my son had  recorded it and wanted to pretend to watch it in real time when we got home.  Despite the fact that he’s a devoted Cowboys fan, he wanted to watch the game, to see who won the season.

I did cheat on my husband’s rules a little bit as it is a five hour drive home, and I checked my twitter feed.  I found out that the commercials are great and some people found Madonna’s half time show tasteful and well done while others found it boring and lacking in Madonna swag. My verdict?   After finally watching halftime at ten o’clock last night, it was a little dull.  I also found out that I follow people on Twitter who cared about the game about as much as did . . . not much.

More than anything, I find it fascinating how obsessed our entire culture is with competition.  For many, winning really is everything. Even if you’re not into sports, the nation is currently obsessed with who is going to win the republican nomination.  Competition is virtually impossible to escape.

As a coach one of the most difficult skills I’ve had to coach kids on is not how to improve their speaking skills, but rather how to lose. 

When they lose in real life, they don’t just get “another life” to start the game again like they do in their favorite video games.  They don’t have any idea how to lose despite living in a society which values competition almost more than anything else.  In some ways it’s unfair.  In many youth sports, the motto is “everyone plays” and a score is not kept.  I get that little guys should just play for the fun of it, but then we send them into a world where they compete, they lose, and they are expected to know how to deal with appropriately.

My team has come a long way on this front as have my own kids.  They know that if they need to pitch a fit after losing, they better do it off by themselves where nobody else sees it.    They know to congratulate the winner, hold their heads up, know they did their best, and no matter how painful, paste a smile on their face.  They need to show some class: no showboating if they win, no hysterics if they lose.

As a coach who hates losing as much as my team, I’ve had to learn to do this too.  It’s really hard.  Winning is much more fun, and it’s also what keeps us going.  We hear about businesses that fail or writers who got hundreds of rejections, but then we hear about that one business that some kid developed in his dorm room and is now worth billions or that one story that a woman wrote in a café with her infant son in a stroller and we think, “if they can do it, maybe I can just achieve a half of one percent of their success,” and we keep going. 

Competition does that for us.  It drives us. Even though somebody has to lose, somebody also has to win.

While I’m not sure that turning everything into a competition is the best approach to life, I still want to win in the publishing game and the business game, and I’ll keep trying, holding my head up and pasting a smile on my face if I need to until I do achieve the levels of success I want.  I’ll get there someday, even if I lose a few times along the way.

And in case you’re wondering, my speech and debate team won eight trophies (six in speech and two in debate), and the hockey team went 2-2, placing third overall. 

I’m guessing you know how the superbowl ended up.

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  1. Debra Mae on February 7, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Interesting post Amy. Just finished the book Deep Truth, by Gregg Braden. He makes a point of saying that in truly ancient cultures (pre 5000 years ago) and the world of the future (next 5000 years) success and survival are contingent on mutual co-operation, not competition. This does not in any way diminish the Congratulations you and the debate team deserve!

    • Amy Isaman on February 13, 2012 at 6:45 am

      Sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I totally agree with you on the value of cooperation. I emphasize it in my classroom and with my own kids. I never set up competitions in class because I don’t see them as highly motivating. I guess in terms of spiritual practice, there’s not really any room for competition. Love doesn’t allow for it. With that said, we live in this highly competitive world that is really hard to deal with but we are expected to.
      I know that post had a more negative tone than I usually use, but it is a huge struggle for me to teach kids how to deal with losing and also how to deal with it myself.

  2. ClaireMcA on February 7, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Redefining success so that its not just about winning is necessary to encourage all those who make significant achievements no matter how they might appear to others.

    I read a wonderful quote recently about dealing with rejection written by an architectural designer which said ‘if you are not failing, then you’re not trying hard enough’. I thought it apt, as was the rejection challenge, a way to change how you view rejection, set a rejection goal for the year, mine was 25, I wanted to achieve 25 rejections for short stories I was sending out, it changed my perception, I was content to get my work back. The difference with focusing on the rejection, rather than the sending out, is that when we receive the rejection, there is an action waiting to be fulfilled, to resend it.

    • Amy Isaman on February 13, 2012 at 6:48 am

      I love that response Claire. Thank you so much for sharing, and I think your idea to strive for rejections as a learning practice is wise and healthy. The challenge, for me at least in coaching, is to get kids to see that, to understand that if they never tried in the first place they wouldn’t have lost, but they couldn’t have won either. I think I’ll post your quote in my class for practice tomorrow. Thank you!

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