In children's soccer, the coaches guide their team members to play a fun filled game complete with energy, excitement and exercise. They explain the rules, help them maneuver, and give them a healthy push to strive and improve with every game. The child may ask what to do and how to do it, but the ultimate desired result is understood, to make that goal. The more a child competes, the better they handle the losing aspect of the game and gain so much more of the rewards such as teamwork, enjoyment, comradery, structure, discipline and confidence. But what motivates them to do even better, play smarter and work harder? The competition.
What drives us to compete at such an early age? Why is competition so healthy? And why is it, that the ambition for competing in physical fitness activities diminishes for most of us as we reach adulthood?
"You can't win unless you learn how to lose." ~Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Not every child will be interested in playing a sport but I do believe that everyone is born with the desire to compete. It becomes apparent early on when we see our toddlers snatch a toy out from another toddler's hands. They are scolded with the intentions that they will learn from their actions. Competition feeds immediate gratification. When my son was 4 years old, he would get upset whenever he lost to a game of chutes and ladders. I would continue to play with him until he won so that he would know what it was like to win, and then I would lecture him about how it was OK to lose. "It is only a game" I would say, and "losing is part of it and we have to be happy for the ones who win." Winning that game of chutes and ladders was not something I needed to teach him. It is just a desire that was in him. How to handle losing, that is learnt, and becomes easier with maturity. Competition is human nature. We are born with that drive inside of us and are compelled to compete and succeed... to go for that goal, to get that A, to race to the finish line, to get that job we interviewed for. Although I had to teach my son how to lose graciously at the age of 4 over a game of chutes and ladders, that passion that he had for attaining his goals is something that I would not want him to lose. Competition leads to ambition and ambition leads to achievements.
Recently I was lifting at my gym. It was shoulder day and I was pumped up with 20lb dumbbells in my hands. I noticed to the left of me, a body builder competitor doing dumbbell rows, and to the right of me an extremely fit athlete who was circuit training, both female, both strong and beautiful. I could have easily focused on my insecurities and felt badly about myself. But instead I felt very empowered by these two strong women and I was proud to be lifting besides them. Comparing ourselves to others is a normal and natural tendency. Competition grows with comparison and is driven by passion. It does not have to be a negative experience. When we are aware and are realistic about our own goals, it only fuels our energy. Comparing ourselves to others does not need to be dismissed and ignored, especially if it leads to healthy competition, motivation and hard work. Competition grows with comparison and is driven by passion.
So how do we, as adults, lose that drive and that passion in regards to physical activities? Well, life happens, money needs to be made, we suddenly have many responsibilities and our priorities shift. Most of us at some point become very exhausted from all the curve balls that are being thrown at us in our lives. We start to lose that ambition for maintaining our physical strength and we become compliant. We focus on our families and our children and their daily involvement with school and activities...and rightfully so. I understand all of this. The problem however is that exercise becomes more important than ever as we age. Being sedentary from inactivity can lead to many illnesses, chronic aches and pains, depression, obesity, and weak bone density. When we realize our health is suffering, we slowly begin to make changes and plan to get healthier. So then we start to exercise until eventually we hit a rough patch. We adopt the philosophy that if we compete with ourselves we will reach our fitness goals. That works great if "yourself" is pushing you, takes you up a notch and increases your intensity level when it is time. But too often what happens is that we take only two extra steps more than yesterday rather than taking that extra leap. Progress slows down, we don't see results, we become discouraged and we quit. Competing with ourselves can sometimes keep us from stepping out of our comfort zone and raising the bar for results. It can also lead to seeking out short cuts that do not work and lead to more discouragement.
Definition of "the competition": "the person or group that you are trying to succeed against."
What I notice when I train my clients is that each and every one of them has that fire. I encourage them to channel their competitive streak as when they did when they were younger and compete against "the competition." And if it is themselves, so be it, but when it starts to become too easy, raise the bar. When we allow ourselves to adopt more of a 'compete against the other team' philosophy, we tend to push ourselves more diligently, and eventually outrun "the competition."
As children playing in sports, we didn't let the competition scare us away. We gave it all we can and fought harder. There is quote used in social media..."If we continuously compete with others we become bitter, but if we continuously compete with ourselves, we become better." What does that tell our children about sports or about life in general? As mature adults, we should know better than to let anyone make us feel bitter.
The truth is, in the world of fitness, there will always be someone who is stronger, leaner, faster, more muscular, more balanced, more flexible, more coordinated. Do we ignore and hide or do we let them motivate and drive us to exceed our limitations? Whether the "competition" is yourself or someone or something else, the point is...set your bar higher. The little child competitor inside of you will thank you.
*Be Your Own Fit would like to thank all the contributors who participated in the photos.*
Irma Ilao is a Certified Elite Trainer, a Fitness Nutritionist, a Health and Fitness Blogger at Be Your Own Fit, and a professional photographer. All photos are credit to Irma Ilao Photography.