ZERO – SUM COMPETITION
By Scott Ford
Zero-sum competition is a huge subject because of its prevalence in sports, where winning is valued and losing sucks. Let’s face it. Nobody likes to lose. Players don’t like to lose. Coaches don’t like losing. Winning is the currency of our current culture of sports. Winning is all that matters.
Well… Maybe not all that matters. There are other values, too, like whole-person development, and the well-being of our coaches and athletes. But frankly, zero-sum competition doesn’t give a rip about who wins or loses. As long as it maintains its one-to-one balance, everything is okay. Winners get trophies; losers get plaques, and human potential develops through competition. It’s been that way since competition began, shortly after the Big Bang.
Nowadays, after approximately 14 billion years of zero-sum competition, evolutions human competitors have become conscious of the competition. The question is, are we conscious enough of the competition to understand its pros and cons? We’ve seen how competition can develop us. Just look at the Olympic Games and you’ll see the positive effects of zero-sum competition. Then look a little deeper, and you’ll see its negative effects as well.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Tokyo Olympics was their exposure of the intense, never-ending pressure we place on our athletes and coaches to be winners, not losers. Athletes are now standing up for their own mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, but guess what? Coaches still have to produce winners to keep from losing their jobs, and there is every bit as much pressure on coaches to win as there is on the athletes they coach.
Who is standing up for the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of coaches? If we don’t do it for ourselves, then who will? The fans? Gimme a break. Fans cheer for winners, curse losers, and it’s probably going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Fans define the pros and cons of zero-sum competition better than anyone.
Popular coaches stay popular with the fans as long as they keep winning. Put a few losing seasons together, and the fans demand a new coach. Forget about whole-person coaching. Fans want winners, not better people. If you happen to be one of those rare winning coaches who also produces better people, then you have created the best of what zero-sum competition has to offer. Just don’t start losing.
As athletes, we develop in the culture of competition we call sport. As coaches, we develop in the same competitive culture, and when we see what the pressure to win can do to our athletes, we often fail to see what the same competitive pressure can do to us, the coaches. Coaches are not immune to pressure. We get stressed before competitions, we can’t sleep, we drink Pepto. All the negative symptoms of zero-sum competition experienced by athletes are experienced by coaches as well. We’re just expected to deal with them in a healthy, well-balanced approach to sport, competition, and life.
Yeah, right… The notion of celebrating our wins and learning from our losses only goes as far as our coaching values will allow. If we value winning over losing, then our athletes will learn the same values from us. But if we value competition itself over winning and losing, then the values we pass on will include the values inherent to zero-sum competition. All of them – winning values, and the values we gain from losing.
As David Meggyesy, one of the Founders of EVO Sports, continues to remind us, competition comes from the Latin word “competere,” which means “to strive together.” Competere does not mean to beat the crap out of your opponents. Nor does it mean to dominate your rivals. By definition, competition means neither winning nor losing but striving together for something of value. If it’s trophies you value, then strive together for trophies. If it’s learning, then strive together for learning. But if you value human potential, then strive together for that.
The Human Potential Movement has been striving together to expand human potential in the West since the early days of Esalen and Integral Transformative Practice. EVO Sports continues the ITP legacy with Functional Integral Training, or EVO F.I.T.
EVO F.I.T. combines physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual training in an integrated coaching program that strives to train athletes and coaches how to better survive the One Winner/One Loser world of zero-sum competition
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