Is Competition Good or Bad?

I went to my third Sassy Fit class on Sunday and boy did it kick my butt. I felt like I had been hit by a bus when I rolled out of bed this morning. Speaking of which, I missed not one, not two, but FIVE buses on my way to work this morning. I was ready to write a very nasty letter to Metro about its crappy, unreliable service.

But I digress. Back to Sassy Fit.

I arrived a few minutes early and learned that Sunday is “Sassy Games.” Participants have to count how many reps they do at each station and write it on the mirror for everyone to see. There were only four of us there, which made it even more awkward.

I’m new to Sassy Fit – I don’t know the instructors and the participants, and I feel like the uncool person whom no one wants to sit with at lunch. I try to pep myself up by reminding myself I just ran a marathon — that’s pretty cool! But it doesn’t help. I feel like a weak dork, and writing our reps on the mirror only exasperated my insecurities.

The point of writing your reps is obviously to motivate yourself to work harder by competing with yourself and your fellow Sassyites. I was not a fan. That’s mostly because I sucked at five of the six stations. Inch worm push ups are not my thing. Wall balls aren’t either. My one redeeming activity was jump rope. Apparently I am pretty good at jump rope, and it was the only activity that I wasn’t last or second to last.

It got me thinking about my views about competition. In the last six months of yoga and two years of running, I’ve developed a mostly non-competitive attitude when it comes to competing with other people.

However, I am extremely competitive with myself, and I’m lusting over some pretty big PRs. But a PR is a personal record – it has nothing to do with other people and what they’re doing.

I run for myself and because I love it, so my goal is to continue to improve, become a better runner, and beat MY times. As a result of becoming a better runner, I have moved up in my age group placings and out of the middle pack. And I will continue to move up as I get better, but that’s not what motivates and inspires me.

Yoga is totally non-competitive, and is focused on community and doing what feels good for your body. I love the community aspect of yoga; I love seeing the whole class in a Warrior 1 pose and drawing energy from each other. It’s empowering and encouraging to be part of the yoga community.

So is competition good or bad?

At this point in my running, I believe that only competing with myself is the most healthy, sustainable attitude. Running faster than other people isn’t going to motivate me in the short- or long-term. I’m not fast enough and never will be fast enough to win races, so there’s really no point in caring about so-and-so and what she’s doing. If I want to qualify for Boston, I need to do the work. That’s enough motivation for me.

For elites and competitive athletes, healthy competition can bring out the best in the athlete/team. It makes you work harder, push your limits, and become the best athlete you can be. In that case, I think competition is awesome, and may the best athlete win!

Maybe I’ll feel differently about Sassy Fit once my legs are recovered from the marathon and my upper body becomes stronger. Maybe I’ll feel better once the cool kids teach me the secret handshake and invite me to a super cool sleepover.

Until then, I’d rather keep my reps to myself, because that’s the only person I’m competing with.

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One thought on “Is Competition Good or Bad?

  1. Great post, Megan. You might want to read this book, or at least a review of it:
    No Contest: The Case Against Competition, by Alfie Kohn

    The older I get, the more I dislike the way I feel when I am competing against someone. Win or lose, I know that it is psychologically and spiritually bad for me. That is why I quit playing in the tennis league. I still love to play tennis; and I do play matches and keep score; but I am at my best when I am just hitting the ball and moving my own body as gracefully as possible. Whatever the score, there is joy when I approach it as an opportunity to do my best.
    Maybe that is why I am attracted to marathon running. It is such an absurd and ego-deflating endeavor. Once across the finish line, everyone is a Winner–because he is too damn tired and emptied of every last ounce of cheap confidence to do anything but hug and congratulate the survivor next to her. The runners at the front of the pack; the runners shuffling way behind–we are all in the same River, moving forward and dreaming our own dreams.
    Speaking of Sassy: a dictionary definition of sassy is Impudence, which is “marked by contemptuous or cocky boldness or disregard of others.” Is that a quality you want? Maybe next time you are called on to compete and mark your score on the mirror, you can draw a Happy Face and move on to the next exerecise, a Real Winner in the Marathon of Life.

    Dad

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