Athletics and athletes were created in Greece. The purpose was to train citizens to strive for excellence, not merely victory. Excellence in every area. They were citizen-athletes. Athletics was a value driven process that led to respect for others, personal and team integrity, justice, and fairness. It improved society as a whole. The word origin for “competition” means “mutual quest for excellence.” The modern Olympics launched in 1896 with the motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Athletes purpose was to push their limits and inspire others to do the same. Iron sharpening iron.
Over the years this value driven process has become more of a profit driven one leading to an obsessive quest to secure victory. The explosion of television and sports as entertainment has taken the monetary value of everything related to sports to a highly elevated level. Coaches and players salaries, stadiums and arenas, a team’s market value – have all skyrocketed in the past 5 decades. As more money is infused in sports, the ideals and concepts of the original athletics are lost. The profit gained is not exclusive to money as winning or succeeding athletically brings with it other societal advantages – fame, power, even privilege.
Youth sports have been pulled along in the wake of this culture change. The worth and prestige of being a college level or professional athlete is driving behavior all the way down to six-year-olds. This attitude fuels the focus on 1.5% as opposed to the 100%. AAU, club teams, and elite travel programs, have transformed youth sports into an ethos driven by winning. It’s often a win-at-all-costs mentality. Where is the mutual quest for excellence? It is a black and white/win-lose dichotomy of competition. This approach has demonized the opponent and even referees. Sportsmanship has been lost along the way. Handshake lines that have been an integral part of the game based on respect are being considered for removal to avoid post-game antics. We need to remember that we are battling against another participant, not an enemy. Let’s compete hard and then at the end of it all respect the other person.
“The only must win was World War Two.” – Marv Levy, Head Coach, Buffalo Bills
We all like to win, especially in competitive environments, like sports or business. Winning can mean many important things, in my case, getting paid. I have said I chose a sales career because it is as close as I can get to playing football in the business world. Winning matters. Without winning we don’t get far in business. Competing to win is good, playground competition is good. Some kids will win, and some kids will lose. Sometimes we ‘do’ and sometimes we ‘do not.’
The win-at-all-costs mentality, where winning becomes the idol by which we are willing to sacrifice everything else, is unhealth and toxic. It leaves in its wake compromised integrity, broken relationships, and long-term risks like mental health. Many of us have heard the adage, “if you’re not willing to cheat, then you don’t want to win badly enough.” I once had a boss tell me that my problem was “I was too honest, I needed to make stuff up” to close business. A mutual quest for excellence does not include a doping scandal, a political break-in of an opponent’s headquarters, fraudulent financial statements, and high school kids who think it’s OK to sucker-tackle an unsuspecting referee.
Vince Lombardi the great football coach did say, “winning is everything,” however he later insisted that he was talking about “the will to win.” He also said, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”
The value derived from playing sports lies not in winning the game, but in giving our best; regardless of the outcome, to find value in the participation. It is more noble to have played well under the pressure of a truly meaningful opponent and lost, than to have defeated a lesser or unworthy one where there was little challenge. The commitment to a mutual quest for excellence suggests the development and purpose of societal benefit. The primary motivation for playing sports must be to obtain the goods internal to them, more so than the external gains.
The younger generation, and emerging leaders, are pioneers in creating a new economy that is beneficial for both humans and nature and does not eliminate people nor create ‘waste’ through fierce competition. They have witnessed the vicious cycle of the rise and fall of ‘bubble economies’ and have grown to loath gaining wealth through any means. They are rejecting the win at all cost mentality and replacing it with a new economic mindset that the community gains wealth, which is not limited to currency; to take seriously the welfare of all “stakeholders” – including consumers, suppliers, employees, neighbors, and the environment.
Can one love their neighbor while trying to block their shot, tackle them behind the line of scrimmage, or check them into the boards? Absolutely. The desire to outperform our neighbor is a spur to excellence. The FCA Competitor’s Creed includes, “I compete for the pleasure of my Heavenly Father, the honor of Christ, and the reputation of the Holy Spirit” and “I respect my coaches, officials, teammates, and competitors out of respect for the Lord.” Competing to give glory to God and respect for others, is a display of loving God and loving others.
God is with us in the wins, He is with us in the losses, and His acceptance of us doesn’t change in either of those circumstances. He is with us in the competition. Importantly, He is ‘with us’, not ‘for us.’ Playing alongside others be it teammates, opponents, coaches, officials and with the relationship of the Holy Spirit, is a mutual quest for excellence.