I coached a boys volleyball team in Alberta. The school team had not won a game in three years. It was a small community and the kids were there for something to do.
In our first tournament we were the doormat of the competition. Over the next few months we worked on our game and saw improvement. At the next tournament we actually had a chance to win. My assistant coach wanted me to pull the server for someone with a better serve. The boy who was up to serve wanted the opportunity. I could not pull him, and we won the game.
We got blown out of the tournament, but we won a game. The atmosphere on the bus on the way home was pure joy.
What got me reflecting on competition was the recent Winter Olympic Games. I had heard so much complaining about our athletes and the poor medal count given the money that was spent. That moved me to wondering about the influences that teach you, me and the children that only being number one counts. The heartbreak that comes with coming in fourth or the joy of setting a personal best gets lost somehow.
During the coverage of the Olympics there was a moment in which a figure skater injured himself in the warm up and had to withdraw. The commentator’s instant remark was that this improved Canada’s medal chances.
While that was true, a lifetime of work got compromised because of a misstep. Someone’s misfortune was reduced to an opportunity for someone else. The games were not made better because the athlete had to withdraw; in fact, I suspect the athletes competing knew that only competition between the best brings out the best.
Don’t get me wrong. I celebrate the medals. Yet the most precious moments for me came when the athletes celebrated their competitors’ success or when sacrifice allowed someone else to succeed.
The silver medalist celebrates the gold medalist because the trick they just did was “sick” (new term for “awesome”). The speed skater who gives up his spot on the team because of his belief in his teammate. The coach who lends equipment to a competitor so he can finish his race with some dignity.
The Olympics brings out these moments. Yes, I am aware of the crass commercialism, the politics and the greed that cast their scent on the performances. However, that just makes those noble, selfless and sacrificial moments more precious.
Reality is that competition will always be part of life. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if the competition between us was rooted in caring for our neighbour, bringing out the best in a friend, lending a helping hand to a stranger, and making sure we are all the best we can be.
Reverend Wade Allen ministers to the North Vancouver Island Anglican/United community in Port McNeill, Port Alice and Port Hardy. firstname.lastname@example.org