It was my first shot at a title in years. Our team had beaten the competition favourites a fortnight before and we were set to play against the next best team — the Sharks.
I was on edge. I had felt nervous and half distracted all day.
The stakes were high. It was a HUGE game! If we lost this, we’d lose our chance to be champions of the Hobart social water-basketball cup!!
(We’d also lose our chance to collect an individually engraved mid season drinking tumbler!!)
The Psychology Of Playing To Win
Competition does funny things to people.
I remember thinking that it was absurd to feel so tense before this game. The rational part of me kept saying: “Hey, this is just a game! And a social one at that.”
On the other hand, the emotional side of me really wanted to win. I felt as if this game was a big deal. My team had worked hard to get this far. We were the underdogs. And we bloody well didn’t want to lose to the Sharks… like Collingwood, no one wants to lose to the Sharks!
In the lead up to this game, it was all about winning for me! Full stop.
Out Of The Mouths Of Babes
Then I got some perspective.
I was cooking dinner before the game when my six year old daughter asked: “Daddy, do you think you’ll win?” I was distracted but my reply was honest: “We’re playing against a very good team. But I do hope so!”
Then she said something that I found very helpful:
“Well daddy, the most important thing is that you try. Just try your best. Then I’ll be proud of you.”
Sweet. That is what I needed to hear at the time.
Sure, I wanted to win but I realised that my attitude needed to change. This poignant comment helped me to remember that it really was just a game. I play water basketball for fun and am friends with the people that I play with. Of course I want to win. But it also matters how I play — my heart, my attitude and the intent through which I play.
I know this sounds a bit cliché, but my focus shifted from winning at all costs, to the way in which I played the game. I focussed my mind towards encouraging others in my team. This included treating myself kindly when I missed a goal or made a mistake. It also involved playing generously by acting humble in victory and (if needed) gracious in defeat.
We all know the term for this — it’s good sportsmanship — yet I sometimes find it surprisingly hard to do. I find it difficult to compete strongly and still maintain a social spirit. I find it hard to maintain perspective in the moment.
Yet in the end, the way you play seems to be important — whether you win or lose.
The Game Of Life
Life and sport are not dissimilar. Both require a broader perspective.
Sometimes we approach life as a competition. We’re driven to achieve and focus too much on climbing whatever ladder we’re on. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we only get close. Yet if we are myopic, we burn ourselves and others in the process.
But we don’t have to live this way. We can have a broader focus.
It can be less about individual success and more about how we as a team might succeed (“we” being our organisation, our neighbourhood, our society and our world). It involves thinking about others more than ourselves. Our desperate drive for success stops being the main game and instead, achievement becomes a by-product of doing things well.
I struggle to think this way because I’m a deeply competitive person. But when I do get there, the wins are more enjoyable and last over time.
So back to the real question… did we win the grand final?
Well, unfortunately no. It was close and we lost by 2 points. $##@$!!!
Did I try my hardest individually? You bet — I swam my guts out. Did I try my best to be sportsmanlike? Well, I wasn’t perfect — I was a bit too vocal at times (a.k.a. bossy) when calling out to my team. Yet I genuinely tried my hardest. And as a result, I enjoyed the game much more.
In the end we were beaten by a better team. The Sharks played well and they deserve the cup. They got both the glory and the tumbler glass. But still, my six year old daughter is proud of me and that’s pretty nice. I’ll take that as a win for now.
Until we thrash the pants off the Sharks next season!!!
Do you find it hard to be both competitive and sportsmanlike at the same time — in work and in life?