The word ‘competition’ gets a bum rap

Date Published: 
Sept. 1, 2017

Coastal Point • Submitted : Multiple gold-medal winner Georgia Billger recently managed the successful Cucumbers & Pickles event for First State Pickleball Club, to help novices advance their game.Coastal Point • Submitted : Multiple gold-medal winner Georgia Billger recently managed the successful Cucumbers & Pickles event for First State Pickleball Club, to help novices advance their game.Like each of you, I have my pet peeves. Of course, it is appropriate that I rename them to “Pickle Peeves.”

It astounds me when people say they are not competitive, or don’t like competition. I don’t know where the word “competition” got such a bad rap. Was it with no-scoring baseball?

I am glad my mother did not try to protect me. It is from rejection and sport losses that I learned to train harder and learned to think more creatively in overcoming obstacles.

My major life lessons came from or were reinforced by competition in sports, where I learned how to self-evaluate and minimize or overcome my weaknesses, and I learned how to win and lose gracefully. Most of these skills I took forward with me into the military and then the business world.

I know that competition against top talent in a tournament venue helps me significantly raise my level of play. The win itself is secondary — simply a grade on my report card. In fact, it is so secondary that I can hardly remember the score afterwards. For me, it is the matching of skills, wits, focus and experience.

I once asked Wimbledon champion Arthur Ashe if he remembered playing me in a very long exhausting match in the Maryland State Championships when we were kids, and he quickly said, “No.” I suddenly felt shorter than my shadow, and it must have been apparent. Ashe, ever the gentleman, said, “But how many wins do you remember? I remember my losses.”

I think part of the problem stems from how you approach competition. I never feared playing some whirlwind hotshot. My losses did not devastate me. They were a rude awakening to where I needed to improve.

I did recently get an inkling where some of this confusion might begin. A friend invited me to his son’s baseball game. The parents on both sides were “talking trash.” Of course, all the impressionable kids on the field heard this, and no doubt thought this was standard adult operating procedure.

It was hard to keep my opinion to myself. I wanted so bad to walk over to the dugout and say, “Hey, kids — loud mouth over there could not hit his way out of a wet paper bag, nor run the bases in two hours, so discount everything he just said. Focus on your game, improve your skills, and enjoy every second of baseball.”

If you were a fly on the wall in the locker room on championship weekend at the U.S. Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, I can personally attest that you would never hear “trash talk,” because these players respect each other and welcome the best competition they can find.

As a young man, I was at the tennis stadium of the famous All England Club (better known as “Wimbledon”), when I noticed the following words from a poem by Englishman Rudyard Kipling. These words, chiseled in stone above the player’s private entrance to center court where so many epic battles have been fought — the last thing players see before they enter the court — struck me like a lightning bolt, because these words best described the individual championship of every human.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…”

Many people who play pickleball are grandparents. I hope they not only learn the joy and self-improvement benefits of sport, but embrace Kipling’s words and encourage their grandchildren to participate in sport. Advise them not to participate in sport for the false narrative to “win above all costs” but to strengthen their bodies, learn to think their way out of dilemmas, share laughter with others of similar interest, learn to win and lose, and appreciate and understand that great humankind message that Kipling was sending us,

“…treat those two imposters just the same.”

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.