In an article from Psychology Today, Dr. Sander van der Linden states, “For most people, there is something inexplicably compelling about the nature of competition. Perhaps, that’s because, as some scholars argue, ‘competitiveness’ is a biological trait that co-evolved with the basic need for (human) survival.” (van der Linden, 2015). I personally do not know what causes us, as humans, to be competitive with one another; or why I get a thrill from competition, but I do know that it is engrained in my DNA to want to compete.
I grew up in a sports family; my dad played and enjoyed baseball and some of my earliest memories are of serving as the bat boy for his softball team. I would go on to play baseball too, but not as well. I played for Mission Trails Little League from the time I was five years old until I was fourteen. I did take one year off because at some point I struggled with the fact that I was a big kid and not very athletic. My dad, who coached my teams for many years, had told me that baseball should be fun and if it wasn’t fun anymore than I did not need to play. I took that one year off because I was not having a whole lot of fun, but I missed the camaraderie and the competition it so I ended up coming back to play for my thirteen and fourteen year old seasons.
Once you turn fourteen baseball is pretty much done unless you are going to go on to play in high school; which was certainly not the case for me. So instead of playing baseball, I got the opportunity to coach. I coached for a family friend for a couple of years, starting off with just coaching at the same little league I had played for and then coaching for a travel ball team that our family friend had started. My next door neighbor then asked me to come coach his sons and again we started off at the little league level and then expanded into travel ball. My dad, who had either coached me or been to all of my games, would come watch from beyond the outfield wall as I coached. We would then talk about the game afterwards, we would talk about what I could have done differently and then make sure I was having fun. I was having a lot of fun coaching, but it was also then when I began to become more and more competitive.
I would go on to coach youth baseball for almost a decade and only stopped when I got a full time job with a commute that made it nearly impossible to make it to practices or games during the week. It was after my baseball coaching career that I found another sport to be passionate about, soccer. My friends and I become interested in soccer while watching the World Cup some years ago and we had the idea to start an indoor soccer team, which actually turned into two teams for a while. We played in a Sunday Co Ed league for a couple of years, but our Thursday Men’s team lasted for ten years. My competitive side really came out during this time. I am not sure what sparked that; could have been the ability to relieve frustrations stemming from work or it could have just been something I had been lacking since I had quit playing sports as a kid but I became more physical on the field and more vocal off of it. I wanted to win and I was not shy about it. We had some success in our league, but it was a recreational indoor soccer team so even if you won the championship all you got was a t-shirt and the team got moved up a division, but that didn’t matter because I was competing again. During my soccer playing days, I again also got the opportunity to coach when a co worker asked me to coach her daughter’s soccer team. I would go on to coach recreational and competitive youth soccer for a couple of years before stopping to focus on my family.
After our indoor team run came to an end I did not participate in much competition with the exception of some horrible golf with friends. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until a few guys from the soccer team decided to start a Co Ed softball team. We have been playing for less than a year now, but I look forward to Monday’s and being back on the field competing. It is certainly less serious than soccer as I am not arguing with the umpires or “encouraging” my teammates to play better. We have made a point for this to just be a fun opportunity for us to hang out once a week but still indulge our competitive spirits. I still am hard on myself when I don’t make a play or have a bad at bat, but try to always encourage others if they do the same. I am having fun out there competing again, last night I was 3-4 with 2 runs scored and an RBI as well as making a crucial pick while playing first base. I am keeping stats for the team, just for fun, and so the guys can reminisce about the games on Tuesday’s while at work.
I have always been competitive, I imagine I always will be. As Dr. van der Linden said, “there is just something inexplicably compelling about the nature of competition.” I am past the point in my life where I need to win, I am past the point of trying to gain the upper hand on an opponent; now the fun for me is just in the spirit of the competition. It’s about trying to get more out of myself than I thought I could. Colin Powell once said, “The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.” What started off as just a chubby little leaguer who couldn’t hit a fastball, and then a slow soccer player who could barely dribble the ball, became a middle aged guy playing Co Ed softball; but what’s important to me is that I am competing and that competitive spirit has never goes away. I think it’s healthy and fun, my wife doesn’t really understand it and we are going to see what form it takes if my son decides to play sports one day. Even then when the competition is on the line though, I am going to remind myself of what my dad has always told me, it’s got to be fun.
van der Linden, Sander Ph.D. (2015, June 24). The Psychology of Competition. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/socially-relevant/201506/the-psychology-competition