Off the back of the IDFPA Push Pull chamionships last week I decided to write a small piece on the benefits of competing. We had 3 members from the gym competing (our biggest number yet!) and hopefully in the future we will have more.
Competing is something I have been doing for most of my life – with mixed results, but the longer I compete the more I realise that doesn’t matter, as I will explain throughout this post.
There is usually a trigger which kicks me into gear when writing and that came when one of the folks competing in the powerlifting championships was telling a colleague about the impending event and was met with the all too common wall of negativity – ‘sure why would you do that if you know you can’t win?!’ – a sure-fire way to dampen anyones enthusiasm or at least plant further seeds of doubt in one’s head.
When I heard this it initially filled me with anger but then I realised that most folks will never understand the feeling of competing, of putting everything on the line and risking public failure in order to improve one’s self (Theodore Roosevelt spoke about this far more eloquently than I ever could – see below).
Why would one avoid competition?
It is scary! It is guaranteed to bring a lot of unpleasant sensations such as doubt, nervousness, nausea and anxiety – stick with me here, I understand I am probably not selling it right now…
It is also heart breaking to love something so much, put it all out on the line and lose in spectacular fashion – as I did here in my first brown belt match earlier this year. But turning things into positives, I have trained with Hugo since, made a friend and worked my backside off to get good at the submission that caught me that day. If I didn’t compete I would never have done any of that. So I guess on that theme, it raises the next question…
Why should one compete – (especially if you know you can’t win)?
First up, winning or losing aside, signing up for an event is guaranteed to give you focus or renewed motivation – especially if you have hit a plateau in your training.
Too often I hear people saying, ‘I’ll compete when I lose a bit more weight, get fitter, get a bit stronger, <insert other excuse here>…’, and I almost always see the same people going in circles and not making much if any improvements over time.
I GUARANTEE that when you sign up for something, you better believe you will work on getting stronger / fitter / leaner etc. A deadline and short term goal increases accountability.
It is also worth noting that you will never feel 100% prepared – if you wait for that moment, you will never get anything done and this carries over into business and life too. There will always be an element of taking a ‘leap of faith’, this is when we find out about our character and build resiliency over time.
Now, going back to the above, in the context of ‘winning or losing’ – you have just ensured you will be a better version of yourself come competition time. Regardless of a podium finish or not, how can this be a bad thing!?
Winning or losing is fleeting, improvement lasts a whole lot longer. And it is worth noting that winning is beyond our control! This may sound like a crazy thing to say but think about it, what if on the day, a referees call costs you a first place finish, or for what ever reason there may be an equipment malfunction or who knows. Focus on what you can control – your performance, training, nutrition, rest etc.
There are far too many people out there with excuses at the ready, afraid to push themselves or lose face in public but this is missing the point completely.
Competing involves leaving your comfort zone and this will be more painful for some than others. It has been said thousands of times and it is so true – nothing is ever achieved staying within your comfort zone.
Competition will, for the most part, provide crystal clear feedback. It will point out your weaknesses far quicker and more abruptly than training will – but this is a good thing! It will also accelerate your learning – but only if you are willing to be honest with yourself. It will tell you exactly what you need to work on for the next event and will give your training more direction and focus.
Now on the other hand, jumping straight into something without doing any training or taking on a challenge that is wildly beyond where you are at right now is not something I would agree with either. Let me explain a little more – for instance if someone has done no training at all, signed up for something and gone in with the attitude of ‘well I did not train so if I lose its ok’ – this is giving yourself a way out or an excuse before you get going.
Ryan Hall is an innovative and very smart BJJ coach that I follow and he talks about it in this video below. I have been guilty of this in the past and it is a cowardly thing to do in that in failing to prepare to the best of my ability I have given myself an ‘out’ purely down to the fact I was afraid if I tried my best and failed, my best wouldn’t be good enough – but again, this was when I was focused on winning, focused on the outcome and not my performance.
Competing also presents you with a fearful situation to overcome. It has taken me a while to bring this into my personal life but overcoming something scary helps build a resilience within us which can only be a good thing and this mental resolve will help us in all aspects of life.
Ultimately, you really are only competing against yourself and I think it takes a lot competition time to realise this.
A sure sign of someone that doesn’t compete or understand competing will always ask – ‘did you win?‘ or ‘why would you enter if you might not win?‘. This is ok. This is another thing as a competitor and as someone who wants to improve themselves will have to deal with. We can’t control what others say but we can control our reactions to what they say.
All too often I have told friends about competitions I have entered to be met with incredulity and statements like, ‘you do realise that is a high standard?’. Previously this would have cut me and had me second guessing myself whereas now I just think, yea it is a high standard and I will be the best version of myself come competition time and if I keep doing that, that is all I need to do.
Finally, I will leave you with Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech and a piece I refer to frequently…
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.