I like to win. My family will tell you I change into a fierce personality on the tennis court. And I like my teams to win.
So, as a Canadian born and bred, when the Canadian women and men’s hockey teams won gold at Sochi I stood and sang “O Canada”!
But then, also being a naturalized American citizen, I cheered as the medals piled up both for the US and Canada – but also for the athletes from any country who stood on the podium to be acclaimed for their speed, strength, and skill.
I also got to pondering: what about those who trained for years but couldn’t make their teams? Or the sole athlete chosen to represent some small country knowing they had no chance to medal? Or those injured early in the competition who had to drop out? What does “competition” mean for them?
“Do you think God made us competitive?” I asked two friends, both pastors, both athletes.
Steve, a cross-country runner believes some people are born more competitive. But he says, at its best competition drives us to conquer a challenge. “It doesn’t have to be rooted in destroying the competition. You need other people to compete with. But you don’t compete just for the fun of it. You compete to win.”
Elizabeth, who lettered in track and field at Stanford has a different take. “Character is not inborn. It is developed through struggle, through success and failure. Most good athletes say they learned more through losing than winning.”
Think of Jeremy Abbott the American figure skater who had a terrible fall and was badly hurt, yet got up and completed his routine to the cheers of the crowd. What did he learn?
What can competition teach us – whether winners or losers?
That was clear at a recent lunch honoring volunteers from the different Charlotte Y branches. Each one said a few choice words. Just before the end Nate, a tall, impressive man spoke.
“You know about the Miracle Field?” he asked. I didn’t then. I have since learned it’s a baseball field at the University Y built so special needs kids can play, on a surface so wheel chairs can move easily. Every child gets to bat. Everyone gets on base. The games end tied so everyone wins. And each one has a “buddy.”
Nate told us about his eight-year old son Anthony, who has played soccer at the University Y for several years, but also has been a “buddy” to Jack, a boy his age who is in the Miracle League.
“Last year,” Nate told us, “the schedules conflicted. So I asked Anthony whether he wanted to keep on with soccer, or be a ‘buddy’ for the Miracle League.”
That’s when big, tall Nate, who played basketball at Penn State, paused, choked up, could hardly finish.
“Anthony chose to be a buddy” he said, wiping at a tear. “To be a buddy to Jack rather than to play soccer himself. I am so proud of him.”
I think we all choked up then.
Last week I went to see the Miracle Field. Paul the director of that Y took me to see the sparkling baseball diamond.
“The Miracle League has all that’s best in sports,” he said. “Loyalty, family, community. Everyone matters. One mother who drives an hour every Saturday to bring her son says, ‘No one ever cheered for my son before.’”
Paul wants parents to consider: would you rather your child be a great athlete? Or a great person?
Of course they can be both. But Nate and Anthony model another way to compete.
I searched my Bible and found these two wise admonitions from Paul on competition worth considering:
The kind to avoid: “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
The kind to pursue: “Outdo one another in showing honor.”
That’s what Anthony and Nate model.
A gold well worth pursuing.