Previous posts can be found here
The Naughty Smurfs (our volleyball team) has had a very rough time this season. After winning our first game, we have lost every game since. This Wednesday, we are playing what will likely be out last game of the season - it's the playoffs, and if we lose, we're eliminated. This season has been very interesting to observe. Some of my teammates have a lot of experience playing team sports and some do not. Some of us have come to grips with losing, and some have not.
In previous installments of this series of posts, I've talked quite a bit about playing to win. In order for the test to be valid, all players must give their all and respect their opponents chances of winning, etc. Most of us, however, have been in the situation where the mismatch is so great that we know the outcome long before the game ends. Such has been the case with the Smurfs this season. In many of our games, after just a few points had been played (sometimes just after watching the other team warm up!) it was obvious that we were going to be on the short side of the score at the end.
I know that some members of the team are deeply frustrated by this, but I welcome it. Of course it would be nice to win, but I have learned that losing is the more instructive sports experience. It is only when you lose that you are truly motivated to train more, and to learn new techniques and new strategies. If you look at it logically, there is no reason to seek to improve if you are winning all the time. Most of us are inherently lazy, and winning a game tells us that our skills are good enough. A loss tells us, in no uncertain terms, that our skills are lacking. In many cases, it tells us exactly what we need to work on as well.
I'm not saying that one should be satisfied with losing all the time - certainly, play as hard and as smart as you can and beat the other guy! - but losing should be embraced, as it is the more transformative element of sport. As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, the true purpose of sport is the spiritual betterment of the competitors. What better way to grow as a person than to face your own shortcomings, and develop strategies for overcoming them? When we examine ourselves privately, we may ignore weaknesses, be overly gentle in our assessments, and generally cut ourselves a lot of slack - but when we enter into competition with set rules and objectives, our failings are clearly shown. The final score, the fallen king, the feeling of your shoulders pinned to the mat for three seconds - THAT is irrefutable proof that you need to improve, and clear directions on where to begin. The opponent has become your teacher, and for that we should be thankful.
Obviously, there are other means to achieving spiritual growth, but competition gives you a chance to enlist every opponent you face, human or otherwise, as a teacher. It's certainly cheaper than taking long retreats at a monastery... In fact, I don't even like the term "opponent." I think that it is best to look at the other players as "partners." Although you keep score, you are really both working toward the same goal, and you take turns being teacher and pupil. The old metaphor is "two stones that rub together slowly polish each other." Together you are polishing the skills of each of you - without such friction, no growth takes place.
Previous posts can be found here