Thursday, February 9, 2012

Competitive Demon

"He was in bounds!  Are you blind?" I shouted as the referee tossed his hands to the side, indicating my nine year old running back stepped out of bounds on the way to a touchdown.   My face turned red and my voice growled like a Chucky doll as I hollered at the volunteer in stripes.  "That moron just cost us the game!" I spatted to my assistant coach, Rick, who looked at me as if I had just kicked a puppy.
"You're taking this a bit too seriously, aren't you?" replied Rick, with a half smile.
"What?  I...who side are you on?"
"The children's, of course.  It's for the kids, remember?"  My first impulse was to argue with Rick, but a rush of shame flooded my heart.  He was right.  My competitiveness turned me into a raging lunatic.  I was a horrible example for the young eyes which looked to me as an example.

Insecurity, inadequacy, and the need for recognition ran deep inside me as a young boy.  Rather than list all the reasons, I would rather state that these negative feelings dominated my youth.  Winning was not something that I wanted to do; it was what I had to do.  If I did lose, I would argue against some minor infraction of the rules or give some excuse why I did not land on top.  Someone else or some circumstance was always to blame.  If, however, there was a competition that I had no shot of winning, like the hurdles or hundred yard dash, then I would simply not enter.  Driven by this demon of number one, I often alienated those around me by my hurtful words or whining attitude.

When my days of college football were over and sports became a hobby, I thought my competitiveness was under control.  That was until I was asked to coach a little league football team.  Knowing little about coaching, I hit the internet and learned all I could about it as fast as possible.  The gurus on the net showed me exactly how to create a winning team.  Everyone would see my brilliant football mind!
Unfortunately, the kids on my team were not seasoned athletes.  Instead, they were, of all things, just a bunch of boys.  They did not follow orders and often just goofed off.  How could they be like that?  After all, they were on my team and needed discipline to win.  What was wrong with these nine year old?

We lost out first game 7-0.  That's OK, I thought, we would just have to get the offense in order.  The second game, due to my son's power running, we actually won 14-12.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  We were on our way.  Unfortunately, our way was to lose every game for the rest of the season.  It was the boys' fault, right?  No matter how many times I stormed the sidelines, wondering why my brilliant plays were not executed correctly, the boys never got it perfect.  They did well of defense, but the offense could not score unless someone on the defense fell down.
I was so angry with the season that in the last game, I tore into the referee with a barrage of insults.  He should have kicked me off the field, but he took it in stride.  The teenage ref was the bigger man.

Rick's words pummeled my soul for the next few weeks.  Whether or not the team won or lost, I was being a pathetic loser.  My self-image was tied to how well the boys did on the field.  If that was my mark of success, then I missed the point of youth sports.

Following that season, I began to curb my competitive attitude.  When they asked me to coach basketball, I initially declined.  Yet the lack of volunteers brought the athletic director of the community center back to my door.  Reluctantly, I accepted the role of coach.  Once again, I hit the internet to learn how to coach.  That season, however, I learned to be at peace with results.  My mark upon the lives of the kids on my team needed to change.  Instead of teaching them to win, I simply taught them the game and told them to have fun.  We rejoiced in every basket, every steal, and every good pass even if it did not lead to a score.  We had fun.  Our record was 4-5, but for me, it will always be a winning season.  From that time forward, I learned to enjoy games in spite of outcomes.  I released the demon of competitiveness and embraced the angel of fun.


  1. A really nice tale of overcoming a demon of sorts...How many parents NEVER have that realization? For me -(yikes)- competitiveness was never in sports, but it comes to an ugly head from time to time in my writing life!

  2. It most definitely can, Helen! Thanks for commenting!