Have you ever knowingly entered a competition you knew you would never win? I have and I’ll tell you something, looking back at all the times I didn’t win has made more of a difference in my life than all the times I entered a competition knowing I had an advantage and could win. First off, winning and losing is not the point of competition. I used to run triathlons and I never entered thinking I could win them. My best Olympic-distance triathlon time was in a race where I came in 60th overall. That made me want to train harder for the next one. My first (and only) half Ironman was awful; I cramped up and barely finished. That made me want to get stronger. The one time I actually won a triathlon, it kind of felt like I had mastered it and from that point on I lost my excitement for the sport. Not winning was what drove me to get better.
So why compete when you know you can’t win? Here are my five reasons for why you must compete.
1. You will push your perceived limits farther then you ever thought you could. Whether it is the external pressure of the competition or the energy in the room, you will always push harder than you think you can when people are watching and you know your score counts. I have seen many people set PRs (Personal Records) during a competition. Just this past weekend, I coached CrossFit RE member Abbey Moon at the Washington State Powerlifting Championship, and watched as she bench-pressed more weight than she has ever done in practice. It was because people were watching her, there was energy in the room, and she knew it was for an American record.
2. Competition is a good way to take a snapshot of where you are right now. It gives you a concrete result that you can test against at any point in the future. Blood testing is another good example: Say you get your results and see you are low in vitamin D. You take vitamin D supplements, go back and retest 6 months later, and are able to compare and measure against your previous results. If you never did the initial test, you would have no way to gauge your progress. Competition is testing, practicing, and retesting. No matter the type of competition, it allows you to say “this is where I am with this particular thing right now.” In the case of CrossFit, the Open is a great way to check in year after year to see if you are getting stronger, faster, and better at this whole fitness thing.
3. It’s a whole hell of a lot of fun. The camaraderie that forms with a group of people who are competing is even deeper than with a group of people who just happen to be doing the same thing side-by-side. You will form bonds with other competitors, and the best time you’ll ever have is going out for beers together to celebrate the end of a competition. There is a chemical release in your brain of endorphins (your feel-good, happy hormone) after the completion of a hard workout, and it’s even more intense when you are surrounded by the smiling faces of people who did it with you or cheered you on. There is no better feeling.
4. The sport is in the competition, not the practice. Soccer games make the sport. Soccer practice is done in order to play the game well. If you enjoy practicing a sport, you must compete. No one enjoys playing soccer, but is ok with just going to practice. (Even you intramural athletes!) At some point you have to throw your hat in the ring. If all you ever do is practice, but never compete, then you can’t say you are player of that sport; you are merely a fan.
5. Not winning might just be what you need to kick it into high gear and train to win the next time. Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team the first year he tried out. But that was just the catalyst he needed to become the best. Richard Sherman was drafted in the 5th round of the NFL draft and is now the best corner in the game. Always striving to be better is what this whole thing is about. What I’m saying is that not winning might be the best thing that has ever happened to you.