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competition vs. COMPETITION

I have tried but just can’t let this olympic season play itself out without voicing my opinion. I hate the Olympics. Hate should be capitalized, and I don’t even believe in hate. I believe in love but there is just not a single thing to love about this hideous tradition in sports.

I have been studying human behavior in every possible way for decades. I have come to believe that while we are born cooperative, we are also competitive. When we create or otherwise find ourselves in situations that require competition, we rise to the occasion and even enjoy the process. I’ve come to believe that the most natural way we compete is with ourselves: the setting and striving for our own personal bests, in whatever arenas are important to us. In the real world most of us live in (not me), I can even see that competition can be fun in sports. I resist this and it feels inherently unnatural to me, but I have seen that it can work.

I have been in the audience of a few of my grown daughter’s roller derby games and, while my daughter and her teammates put their everything into winning and the joy they feel with a win is electric, it is momentary and tempered by a joint post-game gathering of both teams as they share food and drink, laughter and their lives. I know there are lots of others out there who can enjoy sports competitively and still maintain their respectful and loving bond with their competition. And know that the win is just pure fun.

The Olympics, on the other hand, are an abhorrent display of competition. The superficial focus on medals, patriotic hymns and smiling faces are the thinnest coverup for abuse of the highest order in the form of coercion, bribery, withholding of love, behavior modification and loss of self. How many olympians would choose years of exhausting, stressful, many-hours-a-day training if left to their own devices? I would wager to say one out of a thousand, if that many. I feel such remorse, such sorrow, as I realize that we have used young people as pawns for entertainment. It feels like Hunger Games to me.

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yes, Barb, it is a circus, just like in Roman times.

    August 3, 2012
  2. Archana #

    Sometimes you don’t know how good you really are until you’re up against some of the best. Pushing yourself may seem like torture to you but some like to know how far they can take their minds and bodies. In fact only a few of us ever discover our full potential, which by no means is necessary for everyone but some may have a need for that self-discovery. Competition and patriotism are concrete needs/sentiment for some and it is highly presumptuous to say that all these people have been pushed by society at large to feel that way.

    August 3, 2012
    • Oh Archana, I would love to be able to own and claim your presumptuous insult, really and truly I would. I have been searching for years for first account stories of Olympians who loved their experience as children and they are very few and far between (in fact, I have not found any). Can you direct me to some positive first hand stories so I can feel better about this? That’s really all I want, to feel better about what I see as abuse.

      August 3, 2012
  3. Barb, I agree with you. I have personally met two elite tennis players. One of them was in my circle of friends, we grew up together. We were in awe of her; she was rich and famous and she became number 1 and stayed there for years. Only last year she published her memoir, revealing how her parents had pushed her from a very young age to play tennis. She felt oppressed by their zeal. Her parents controlled everything about her life, even the millions she made. We never knew any of this; she kept it secret all these years. She doesn’t have anything to do with her parents today, they’re not even talking to each other and haven’t been for months or years. She now finds comfort in being a mother of two young children that she’s going to bring up in a very different way.

    The problem I see with athletes that were pushed to play sports from such a very young age is that they grow up so conditioned that they don’t believe they can do anything else. Something that always shocked me about the two tennis players I have personally met is that all they talked about was winning and being the best. That seemed to be all they had been trained to achieve.

    My kids refuse to play any sports like most kids do. To use their own words: “we don’t want to be told to run after a ball or jump through a loop.” They prefer free play. They actually refuse to participate in any of the competitive games some parents organise at birthday parties. I’m very glad they’re doing this! I did suggest to them that they join the soccer team, but they refused. They are only 4 and 6! I am learning so much from them.

    August 3, 2012
    • Sadly, my research and experience has shown me the same. Please, someone, anyone, show me some olympians who have had happy, self-directed childhoods. I want to feel better about this.

      August 4, 2012
  4. Archana #

    I’m no sports fan, Barb, but I will keep my eyes open for stories. All I know is I meet kids all the time- schooled, unschooled, homeschooled and I see the competitiveness in them. Existence is not absolute. The fact that we don’t live in a vacuum, makes all things relative. I agree that sole dependence on outside appraisal reflects a wanting inner self but most people feel good when they know they have accomplished something difficult and if the world applauds you for it, it ain’t such a bad thing.

    August 4, 2012
  5. yup, no argument about the general nature of competition there Archana… as I stated in my blog. As for the world applauding, well… I think it’s great when it happens – after all we should acknowledge and be grateful for all sorts of things and people we love and enjoy – but if you should come to NEED such applause to feel good about yourself, well… I just hope I am never in that place.

    August 4, 2012
  6. Archana #

    Here’s Missy Franklin’s story…..

    …and I’m sure there are many more good and bad stories. I guess my point is the Olympics in it’s true spirit is meant to elevate the human experience and I find it hard to blame the event because the participants/parents/countries got their priorities wrong.

    I also find it hard to believe that the world’s best athletes NEED our applause. I think they simply rejoice in the moment with us.

    August 4, 2012
  7. I’ve read many stories from athletes in the throes of their peak moments and they are all wonderful sounding. The autobiographies that come later after the dust settles are deeply disturbing. As much as I honor your opinion and your right to it, I humbly and vociferously disagree with you. I am however open to (hopeful) radical change.

    August 4, 2012
  8. Archana #

    I’ll wait for Missy’s autobiography then. In the meantime, can you send me a list of the autobiographies you mentioned?

    August 4, 2012
  9. Ha! You are so funny. I am a really organized person but not organized (or anal) enough to keep a list of the titles and authors of the hundreds of books I read every year. You will have to do your own research I am afraid if this is important to you. Andre Agassi wrote an autobiography a year or two ago that sticks with me on this topic and I lost a fair amount of sleep over his tale. I read another one that was recently published by a US gymnast whose name I cannot remember. The others have just melded into my memory for now. Good luck.

    August 5, 2012
  10. Archana #

    No, of course you’re not! I got my answer Barb. Good luck to you too.

    August 5, 2012
  11. Debbie #

    I had the Olympics on as a background while I folded laundry today (not much on tv besides the Olympics if you don’t have cable) and I found it so sad that a Chinese gymnast was in tears…because she got a silver medal and expected/wanted the gold. That’s a big part of what is wrong with the Olympics. It’s not about doing your best, it’s about the gold medal.

    August 7, 2012
  12. Holly #

    So! Opened a newspaper yesterday and the media is reporting that sports organizations are deeply distressed about Australia’s medal haul. Currently we are 17 th ranked. The association/ministry is going to push for more compulsory swimming for school students and ramping up the pressure on these future athletes because- god forbid – they would shame our country like this again! Or something to that effect. Also the media has been so harsh on the athletes, poking fun, shaming and ridiculing them on the world stage. It feels like madness!

    August 8, 2012

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