Why you should seek competition

This weekend, I reunited with an old friend. We were very close in high school, drifted apart in college, and we’ve been out of touch the past couple years. I was nervous about the reunion at first, but we picked up right where we left off: with lots of yelling.

Competition and I have a passionate backstory, and that flame was rekindled at the P-town Beatdown, Violet City CrossFit’s annual inner-box competition. I had forgotten how hot that fire burns. It reminded me how crucial competition is to pushing me to new heights, and I think you should get to know Competition, too. Because when you’re introduced to Competition, you’ll get to know yourself better.

Don’t get me wrong, I know, you’re not an elite competitive athlete. Neither am I. If you’re like me, you’re probably sacrificing something just to get in your one-hour workout. You’ve got a career, kids, responsibilities and, if you’re lucky, a social life. But, according to people smarter than me, competition can help us excel in all of these aspects:

Plus, it’s a genuine thrill, and how often do you feel that anymore? Saturday’s competition took me back to the tingling anticipation of the gun at the start of a race; the match point of a volleyball game; the quicker response with the right answer – yes, I competed with my brain, too, so what?

Why take the extra step?

Photo credit: Bekah Dilworth. From the 2017 CrossFit Open, event 17.2

Technically, we could compete every day at the gym. That’s the point of a whiteboard, isn’t it? You don’t look at the strength numbers and metcon times and just see numbers – you see weights higher than others, times shorter than others. It’s a daily competition, if you want it to be.

But sign up for a competition and notice your stomach tighten a little more each day as it draws closer. It scares you a little, and it should, because each time you compete, you push yourself into the unknown. You don’t know what your opponent will do, just that your expectation is to perform better than him or her. That expectation isn’t there during a normal class time – you could choose to perform at a comfortable pace, and no one would say a word. It’s your workout.

But consider what Timothy Gallwey says in The Inner Game of Tennis:

Once one recognizes the value of having difficult obstacles to overcome, it is a simple matter to see the true benefit that can be gained from competitive sports… In this use of competition it is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him. Only by doing this do you give each other the opportunity to find out to what heights each can rise.”

In an earlier blog, I wrote about why it’s important to have “training days” and why we should be patient as we learn to PR the process. Competition is the time to let loose the beast. Up the ante and put yourself in the spotlight. Because, contrary to popular belief, we could really use more true win-lose situations in life. Competition is not biased: it will expose your weaknesses and strip you of any unearned pride. But it puts victory in the hands of those who truly earned it.

In a great Breaking Muscle article, Dresdin Archibald said, “Self esteem comes from knowing you do things better than others, not from accomplishing the same nothing as others.

Something to lose – but not everything

When asked to compete, we usually push harder than we would in everyday situations and give it hell because there’s something at stake. In boring Adultworld, this is usually something filed under “mission critical”: a job, a big client, a house (especially in this market!). We don’t often get the chance to fail and land softly (metaphorically speaking – I have bruises to prove the literal interpretation).  

While losing a physical competition or failing a lift might sting the ego, you won’t be out anything you had in the first place – perhaps a cash prize, bragging rights or a Chipotle gift card. But what you stand to gain, even if you don’t top the podium, is far more important.

Why do so many people compete in the CrossFit Open, even when there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell you’ll go to the Games? Because it’s a chance to push as if you were at Games level, with the support of a community behind you. This year, we heard about many athletes achieving their first bar muscle up during 17.2. These athletes probably had the strength and speed for it before The Open. What they didn’t have was the pressure and pump from a competition atmosphere.

So go scare yourself shitless, find a competition and sign up. I dare you.

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