From the Bleachers: Examining the Nature of Competition

For the past six weeks, rather than reporting on the cold hard facts of Colorado College athletics, I was gallivanting around Europe in countries where the phrase NARP doesn’t quite translate. And though it was a nice break to explore both inwardly and outwardly, it seems no matter where I go, I can’t escape my own NARPhood. I realized this on one specific day in Greece. Our class had traveled to the ruins of Olympia, the birthplace of our present day Olympics. As I sat on the ancient grounds, my back against a stone with etchings that once signified the victor of a certain competition, I had to ask myself, feeling admittedly guilty as I did so, what’s the big deal with competition? Though the games played in 776 BCE may have been quite different than those that we play today, the one thing they have in common is the competition that lies at the heart of all sport. And while I understand that there would be no sport without competition, I have to wonder, why do we compete in the first place?

Now, after speaking with some athletes, I realized that this subject in particular is one that is harder to understand for the athletic and irregular population, so perhaps a brief explanation of my own experience with competition can explain my confusion. At a young age, I began to feel the itch of competition myself. I watched my brothers pout after losing little league games or giving up a goal, and for a year or so, I did the same. My competitive streak, however, was short-lived as I quickly realized I did not have to spend any time pouting if I simply didn’t give myself a game to be upset about. For this six-year-old NARP, the pain of a loss outweighed the joy of a win, so I decided to quit. And today, 15 years after my retirement, I ask the same question that I asked all those years ago, why compete?

My research began at a coed intramural basketball game, somewhere I thought I could find both athletes and NARPS engaging in friendly competition. But, at this game, that assumption was proven wrong. Among the two teams, there were only about five non-athletes. This fact seemed both telling and curious.

“I’ve seen some IM games get pretty heated,” said sophomore Yiannis Margetis, men’s basketball player and intramural referee. “But I think you have to be competitive to be an athlete, otherwise you’ll just be edged out over time.”

Margetis seemed to have a point, one that may explain my own lack of athleticism. But even after accepting the necessity of competitive drive in order to succeed, I still couldn’t understand why. If the only outcome of a win is a trophy or bragging rights and from a loss, frustration and anger, why choose at all? Why do we choose to compete?

“It’s fun!” women’s lacrosse player and senior Natalie Shishido said. “I choose to play because it’s really just fun to be out there, but once I’m out there it’s all about the competition. Even if I lost every game in a season, it may be frustrating, but it would be worth it. Competing is just fun.”

So, after some research it seemed the only conclusion I could draw was an affirmation of my own NARPhood in my dislike of competition. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the competition that I practice in my everyday life.

“Everyone’s competitive it’s human nature. Maybe some people are more competitive than others, but we’re all competitive,” women’s lacrosse player and junior Julia Tarantino said.

My final conclusion is that my initial question was flawed. There is no question of ‘why compete?’ but rather ‘how’ because no matter how we choose to fight for the validation that we are the best, we will always somehow do it, through sports, grades, or even conversational bragging. Competing has always and will always be in our nature, but I have to say, there’s nothing like watching athletes sweat and scream for a win to make you feel like the real winner is the one watching from the bleachers.

Mariel Wilson

Mariel Wilson

Mariel Wilson

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