We find ways to conjure up a duel out of almost anything.
I remember a few years ago all of these silly challenges starting popping up on social media. Not challenges that cause you to examine things of merit like the ice bucket challenge did for ALS.
Even just as I was writing that line I a nearly forgot the intent behind the ice bucket challenge. I remembered that the intention was to bring awareness to a devastating disease. The letters were on the tip of my tongue but, I forgot.
Unfortunately, the challenges that imprint on us are that of the cinnamon challenge or the hot pepper challenge and one of the most recent (and thoroughly ludicrous) the Tide Pod challenge.
Like these foolish challenges, in sport, the mere act of calling out another individual’s ability to perform is something that causes people to act irrationally.
What might the playing field look like if instead of raising a question to your opponents’ capability you turn the magnifying glass on yourself? How different would you be from the competition if instead of jarring their confidence deliberately you chose to treat them with respect for the entire game? What might competition look like then?
In this article, we will visit ways you can set yourself apart by competing by way of integrity, respect, and honor.
Let start with sportsmanship.
Be a Good Sport
“Humble in victory, gracious in defeat” -Ron Grigg
My collegiate athletic exercise included a lot of wins. Before my classes’ arrival, my alma mater had never won a conference championship. Cross Country, Indoor, and Outdoor came up short every single championship until the 2005-2006 season.
That season a young program walked into East Tennessee State University’s Indoor Facility with confidence. Not that we would win a championship but that we were prepared to do our best, and that we did.
Since that inaugural win in 2006, the program has lost one championship. Yes, you heard it right. Over the last 12 years, The Fearless Fins of Jacksonville University have brought home title after title, with only one loss. That loss was delivered after the 11th consecutive win I might add.
As the program grew accustomed to success, our Coach wanted to make sure our egos didn’t. The consistent message was to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
Showing your appreciation for every victory is imperative. We can all attest that the journey to the top is often a treacherous one- the win is rarely handed to you. Sometimes when you have accomplished a great feat, when you have completed the ascend you want to celebrate. You want to scream from the rooftops.
A humble victor doesn’t behave that way. A humble victor is expressive but not boastful. Exercising humility is foreign to some athletes. Don’t let that be you. Be different be set apart. Be a good sport.
A grateful heart is a reflective one. No one plans to lose. But the truth is there are far many losers than there are winners. Learning to cope with loss is a vital skill in athletics and life. Gratitude says that you have reflected on the journey, value the experience and accept the result.
Being a sore loser in my book is similar to harboring feelings of unforgiveness. Anne Lamott puts it this way in her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” It doesn’t work that way.
Choosing humility and gratitude is the most genuine expression of sportsmanship.
Keep Your Emotions In Check
I often don’t live in the past, but if I could have a re-do just one thing from high school, it would be choosing to be a multi-sport athlete. While my first love was Track & Field, I think volleyball could have been a close second.
The x’s and o’s of the game has always intrigued me, but I never took the plunge to insert myself into the sport in a competitive way. Partly because my Track coach insisted I prioritize track but partly because didn’t have the confidence.
If I am honest, my desire for being a volleyball player was not rooted in good sportsmanship, integrity, honor or anything positive for that matter. I wanted to be a volleyball player so I could stand at the net and talk trash to my opponent.
Sad, I know. I am shaking my head as I write this. But it is my truth, and I am going to tell it. There was a point in my life where I was outraged. I was angry at life and how it could be so unfair.
Like many people, I wanted to throw this anger at any and everything. Sports had recently come into my life, but I hadn’t tapped into using it positively just quite yet.
I saw team sport as an environment where talking trash was acceptable. Truth is. There isn’t an environment where it is acceptable to use your words to cause harm.
Even within the context of sport, your words are powerful. Contrary to popular belief, when the game has finished the word are not undone. Once they go out, you can not take them back, not even after an apology. This is why paying attention to how your emotions influence your actions is so pressing.
Athletically speaking, the rise and fall of emotion are inevitable. As game situation present you may be required to summon different feelings to complete the task at hand. I would challenge you that whatever emotions you ignite you first filter them through the lens of integrity. Question yourself, do my present actions align with my moral compass? If not, check yourself.
Respect Your Opponent
I’m not sure why in team sports you are required to shake hands at the end of the game. Win, lose or draw emotions are running high and may not be in check quite yet.
As a result, many hands are untouched, eyes are unmet, and words are left unsaid. I do believe that regardless of how loud your emotions are talking you can choose to quiet them. You can choose to act with respect.
My mom is incredible. She instilled in us at a very young age simple manners that I feel have been lost on this generation. Manners like, when you make eye contact with a person, acknowledge them.
Meet them with a smile, extend a greeting. Hold the door for people. Say please and thank you. Respect your elders by attaching a “handle” to their names, i.e., adding their title: Mr. Miss, Miss, Sir or Madam.
While she is no advocate of southern hospitality, we are northerners over here, and she too was raised right. She was raised to treat people with decency and respect in all conditions, and that is what she passed down to my siblings and me.
This is hard when you are not met with respect. Sometimes the competition is ugly. It is dirty, drag down, a dogfight. From the opening tip, your team has been assaulted verbally. But you have managed to keep your emotions in check and play with integrity. With respect. You, my friend, have already won.
The other side of showing respect to your opponent I feel a need to address is when you are already on the top. Perhaps you are the cream of the crop. The competition is still deserving of your respect.
Your respect for their talent, efforts, and person. If you are fortunate enough to finish first consistently make sure the way in which you win is admirable. Do not be a sore winner. Remember the quote I mentioned earlier, “Humble in victory. Gracious in defeat.”
Are you familiar with Clean Sports Collective? Clean Sports Collective is a non-profit organization committed to educating the general public on the value of competing clean. It is their mission to do this through testing, awareness, industry advocacy and restoration.
I love the message behind The Clean Sports Collective because it brings the attention back to the athletes that are indeed competing clean.
When athletes chose to use performance-enhancing drugs or items that are on the banned list they taint the sport. Not only do they corrupt the sport by way of their dishonesty but also because they shift the narrative of performance.
I remember vividly when Marion Jones offered a public apology for willing using performance-enhancing drugs. While her apology may have been sincere, it could not undo the damage that her admittance had done. Jones introduced deception to her fans and fans of the sport of track and field.
No, she was not the first accused and found guilty of such an offense, but she was admired, respected and trusted within the Track & Field Community. So the question became if she isn’t clear who else is using? Or another one was how do you know if an athlete’s performance is exceptional on merit or as a result of medication?
I hope that the thought of not competing clean is off your radar. Choosing to not to compete clean may lead to some pretty impressive performances, but it will undoubtedly cost you something. It will likely cost you your integrity, your honesty, your respect, and your health.
Bringing It All Home
The difference between you and the competition often is not talent. The result of the game, competition or duel most times is related to the intangibles. The things that are not training physically.
The very thing that will separate you from that of your competition may be within the body of this article, or it may be deep down in your soul.
You have to find it.
You have to want it.
Commit to being exceptional.
Commit to being exceptional in the way that you perform everyday tasks and unique skills; you show up for yourself and your teammates and in the ways that you chose to act in a way that is honorable, respectful and intentional.
The competitive environment will challenge you in all of these areas. Recognize that this is your testing arena. Prepare and purposefully enter.
Your competition will be waiting, but they will not see you coming. A fearless competitor is one that exudes dignity and grace.
That is how you set yourself apart.
That is how you make sure there is a difference between you and the competition.