She was only 12 and already was ranked as one of the top 5 triathletes in the country in the 12 & unders, (as if that ranking really meant anything). I know her dad thought it did and that’s why he had the tee shirt made for her. For me, the message on the Tee captures what is so wrong in competitive sports today, an approach that causes more athlete burn-out and repetitive performance problems than anything else I know.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for healthy competition in sports. I think it’s great to put athletes in situations where they’re being tested and have an opportunity to grow personally and athletically. However, healthy competition and peak performance have little to do with the message on that Tee. The message on that little girl’s shirt defines competition and peak performance in the very narrow terms of winning. This is a grossly inaccurate way to measure success and define losing!
Here’s why: When you have the greatest performance of your life and your team loses or you come in 2nd, 3rd or dead last in your event, you are a winner, NOT a loser! I don’t care what the adults around you tell you! I don’t care what stories are written about you in the media! YOU ARE A WINNER. The true purpose of competition and sports is to inspire you to go beyond your best, to be at your peak. This has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome! NADA! ZIP! ZERO! As far as I’m concerned, whether you end up winning or losing in the process is irrelevant because peak performance has nothing to do with your opponent either. Peak performance is about measuring yourself against yourself, about going beyond your own limits.
To measure success by the near-sighted view of finishing first is to blindly miss all that’s important in your sport and your personal Odyssey , the training, hard work, highs and lows, valuable life and sport lessons, improvements, how you handle hardship & setbacks, etc. This is like taking a colorfully detailed painting by one of the great masters and reducing it to a stick figure, pencil sketch. You miss the entire experience!
Do yourself a favor! Stop measuring your success and failure in relation to those around you. Instead, start measuring your success based on you pushing your own limits, improving your own technique and endurance, and bettering your own game. This is what it really means to win. This is what being a champion is all about. It’s not just about coming in first!
Fooling yourself into believing that your success is totally dependent upon beating others will cause you to go into your competitions overly focused on the outcome and your opponents. When you do this, you’ll end up undermining your self-confidence and tightening yourself up. In turn, this will insure that you play well below your capabilities.