Competition is defined on dictionary.com as the rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter.
Defining competition specifically in softball terms:
- Softball Player: To strive to outdo another player for a spot on a team, starting position, or to best players on other teams.
- Softball Team: To strive to win a game.
The key words in those definitions are, “To strive,” which is the act of competing. To compete in softball is to knowingly take the risk of being cut, not earning a starting position or of losing games. Players and teams are attempting to out-perform each other.
Beyond the fields our lives are full of competition.
During the course of competition players will make mental mistakes, commit errors, strikeout, deliver a wild pitch, etc. and teams will lose games. They may actually play to the best of their capabilities only to be out-performed by the other players or teams. And they could even be outdone if their adversaries didn’t play their best games or have their best efforts simply because some athletes and teams are more talented than others.
Competition is what makes softball (and other sports) so entertaining, interesting, challenging and exciting. Watching, playing or coaching in lopsided games is about as fun as a 4-hour rain delay. It’s those well-played nail-biting games that come down to the 7th inning that everybody loves to be a part of. That is the apex of competition.
Competition in Life
Beyond the fields our lives are full of competition. We compete in the classrooms and in our careers. We compete for the top grades, academic honors, scholarships and to be accepted into select universities, trade schools, graduate programs, etc. Regardless of our academic paths, we compete for jobs or positions in professional firms. Once we are hired we compete with our co-workers or colleagues in attempts to climb the company ladder for financial gain or as a symbol of status. And there is no limit to the competition if we start and run a business, no matter how big or small.
Athletes are often told, “The lessons you learn in sports will help you the rest of your lives.” The problem with this adage is that if athletes did not learn how to deal with their failures in competition as children, then they won’t be able to handle them as adults. If they did not learn how to process being cut, benched or how to lose, then how will they respond to not being accepted into engineering school or getting passed over for a promotion? And what if an athlete was never cut, always started or won championships? How will they respond to the same non-athletic disappointments and setbacks?
There will other opportunities in life.
Dealing with Failure
Getting Cut – An athlete should ask themselves 3 questions:
- “Did I give it my best effort?”
- “Was I focused?”
- “Did I demonstrate a good attitude?”
If they answered “Yes” to each of these questions, then they should understand they controlled everything they could. Everything else was out of their control, so worrying about those things is a waste of time and energy. If they feel they were wronged for any reason from politics to the coach’s biases, it wouldn’t have been a positive or enjoyable situation anyway. On the other hand if they realize that the other players were just plain better than them, then they should be satisfied that they gave it their all and be happy for the other athlete’s success.
In either case dealing with getting cut is an experience everybody goes through sooner or later in life. It’s a form of rejection like being told “No” when asking somebody out on a date, getting turned down on a loan, not getting the job or having their bid for a contract declined. It’s been said in many ways by countless people, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down. It’s how many times you pick yourself up that matters.”
Being a sub with limited playing time is one of the hardest things to do on any team.
It’s normal to feel negative emotions. But, they have to learn to accept it and move on. There will other opportunities in life. If they allow themselves to develop the fear of rejection, they will become a victim of their own creation and miss out on those opportunities. Instead they need to shake it off, rub some dirt on it and get back in the game! The game I’m referring to is the game of life. Encourage them to find something else to pursue like another sport, hobby or activity. Success from another object of desire will ease their pain of being cut. Otherwise they may learn to accept never taking risks to achieve any of their desires, since if they don’t try, they cannot fail and feel the pain associated with it.
Not a Starter – Athletes should ask themselves the same 3 questions
The same things are true as stated above concerning being cut if they answered “Yes” to those questions. At this point in time the coach sees them as a role player. They will be expected to practice and prepare for the games as any starter would. Being a sub with limited playing time is one of the hardest things to do on any team. The player’s attitude towards this situation is critically important. If your daughter is not satisfied with being a role player in travel softball, she can try out for another team. Changing schools is a bit more drastic, if need be, whether high school or college. Yet sometimes, this is what needs to be done.
Allowing themselves to play the victim will make matters worse for them and their team. Accepting the role and coasting along through the season will ensure their status. The coach will see this and feel confirmation on his assessment. The only thing they can do to reach their goal of becoming a starter is to improve their skills beyond those of the current starters. They should treat every practice as tryouts. Working as hard as they can to out-perform the starters is their only chance to catch the coach’s eye. Whether they earn the opportunity to prove themselves in a game or not, if the coach maintains his belief, then they should accept their role and be a good supportive teammate. Maybe next year she’ll get her chance to shine? But, bad mouthing the coach and/or starters is a bad idea that usually ends ugly for everybody.
Losing Games – Athletes should ask themselves the same 3 questions
A softball team is a group of individual players trying to be the best they can be, while hoping to come together to win their games. Their opponents are doing the same, so something’s got to give. There’s going to be a winner and a loser. One certainty is that every team and its competitors at some point in time will experience losing. Whether in a tournament or season only one team will win their last game.
“May the best team win,” is another adage that is misleading. The best team may not be their best on any given day, which can lead to something referred to as “upsets.” Or the best team may “cling to victory,” while not playing their best. Often a member of a team has an outstanding performance, while her team loses the game. A game may come down to the final at-bat, which can only end successfully for one team. An individual player may strikeout, make an error or give up a walk-off hit. Too many times that last play is over analyzed, while neglecting to think about the previous 6 2/3 innings. Such is the complexity of team sports.
Win with class and lose with dignity.
Each individual player on the team should ask themselves those 3 questions above after a loss. The same truths apply, but there are some additional considerations. A player may not be her best, but how is she handling it? Is she selfishly bringing her team down by having a pity party? Or is she encouraging and congratulating her teammates? What if she’s having a great game? How is she treating her teammates who aren’t doing so well? Is she trying to pick them up?
As a parent who went through the college recruiting process and also as a coach, I can totally understand the importance college coach’s place on wanting to see players fail. Failure is the ultimate test of character. It’s easy to appear as a person of good character when things are going well. It’s challenging when they don’t. I’ve seen players sulking after their teams won a game, which is the epitome of selfishness. I’ve also seen players acting jubilantly after their team lost, because they had a good game. It can be arrogant and inconsiderate to act this way and is certainly not team oriented behavior.
There is quote that may best express competitive sports, “Don’t get too high when you win. Don’t get too low when you lose.” In other words, win with class and lose with dignity. Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders comes to mind. What about losing in life? What if she doesn’t get the job or promotion, cannot get accepted into graduate school or has to close her business? How would you hope she responds? Would you want her to give up and never try again? Would you want her to play the victim, while blaming and trash talking others for her failure? Would you want her to be courageous and diligent or apprehensive and languid?
Dealing with Success
On the other hand what if she experiences great successes in life? What if she’s winning? How would you hope she conducts herself? Would you want people to say, “What a great kid. You wouldn’t know how successful she is.” I’m talking about humility, which I believe is one of the most admirable character traits any person can practice. Would you want her to be reverent and modest or narcissistic and conceited?
Summing It Up
As the classic song by the Eagles goes, “We may lose and we may win, but we will never be here again.” Opportunities to participate in competitive sports involve taking risks, as does so many things in life. And opportunities are usually time limited. The last part of the definition of competition, “but not necessarily the destruction of the latter (loser),” is entirely dependent upon the attitude of the competitor, which in the case of softball is your daughter. Would you hope she has learned to live by, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger?”