Remember the last time you felt the pride of winning a close match? Between evenly matched teams, there’s a certain degree of satisfaction that comes from pulling ahead to reach that winning score.
But how did you feel last time you won a match 11-2 or 11-zip against a team that wasn’t as good as you? What was that satisfaction you felt about, beating a team you already knew was beatable?
And, similarly, the last time you played against a better team whose bad day led you to win by 4-5 points, didn’t you feel the satisfaction in winning then, too?
What is it about winning that makes it mean so much, whether the teams are better than you, worse than you, or at the same level? And is it really good for you and your game?
When I first came to the U.S., I was taken aback by the culture of competition and the drive to win at almost any cost.
Back in my days of playing world-class table tennis, my coach never said “Now go GET ‘im!” or “Go crush him” (or the French equivalents). The message I got was always “Go play your best,” or “Go see how much you can do.” It was about me playing well and improving MY game, not about measuring myself against anyone else.
From my perspective, Americans (and increasingly other cultures) are steeped in a culture of competition, comparison and one-upmanship that I would argue is actually KEEPING you from playing your best pickleball.
I’ve touched on this in the past in my articles about The Difference Between Being Committed to Improving & Just Wanting to Complain About Your Bad Shots and How to Graciously Get to Play with Better Players (a.k.a. How to Make Sure You’re NOT That Person Everyone Hates Playing With), and The Mental & Emotional Aspects of Pickleball. I elaborate on it even more on it in my Amazon.com #1 best seller, Smart Pickleball.
But I haven’t addressed it from a cultural perspective.
The Culture of Winning
It’s not just that YOU hate to lose, but that you’ve been immersed in the idea that winning is inherently better than losing. And unlike a fish who doesn’t know it’s wet, I hope that this article will help you start to get some perspective, first, on the environment you’re surrounded by, second, on how it’s affecting you and, third, on the reality that there IS another alternative.
In spite of the occasional remark that “Winning isn’t everything!” (Usually somewhat patronizingly said to the person who has just lost…) most players I encounter really DO prioritize winning over everything, whether they are blatant about it or not.
Rarely is the same respect given to the person who had fun, was patient, or made improvement to their game, as is given to the person who won.
From what I see, all those other measures are just condolence prizes. Or, if value IS placed on them, then it turns into yet another competition: it’s not just, “Let’s have fun today,” but it’s “Well, you two certainly had the MOST fun out there today.”
Winning Doesn’t = Surviving (Anymore)
There’s an argument to be made that competition is a natural occurrence. But even Darwin’s theory wasn’t about winning, it was about surviving. I hate to break it to you, but your survival truly isn’t dependent on whether or not you win tomorrow’s pickleball games. And besides, “Survival of the fittest” today isn’t about speed or strength. I believe that there is an increasing trend toward “survival” depending upon creativity, foresight and collaboration, whether you’re an individual entrepreneur or a large corporate entity.
But at the same time, as our physical survival seems to become more and more secure, that compete-to-survive energy is increasingly being channeled toward competition in lesser aspects of life. (Not to mention “Survivor” the TV series…)
Gone are the days of engaging in an activity purely for the pleasure of doing it.
Cooking for the fun of it?
Dancing for the fun of it?
Singing for the fun of it?
Just turn on the TV and they have all turned into competitions (not to mention how survival itself has turned into a tv competition as well…). (I hope people are still making love for the fun of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s competition I don’t know about out there, too.)
The Cost of Having a Winner
Of course, the worse part about this whole thing is that there can be only 1 winner, which, by definition, makes EVERYONE else a loser.
Ouch! Being called a loser is a pretty prickly put-down, and yet the truth is, if everything were a competition, most of us ARE losers (a.k.a. not the 1 winner) most of the time. (And not just in pickleball.)
Inherent in this mindset is the either/or nature of a zero-sum game: If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose. There’s no way for both of us to win because even a tie counts as neither winning rather than both of us winning.
Furthermore, even the “winner” isn’t ALWAYS winning. In between those moments of glory is the anxiety, stress, and future-dated happiness related to winning the next one, and winning AGAIN after that, because–heaven forbid–if you lose, it will have all been for naught. But what if it’s not that the drive to win is making you happy in those winning moments, but what if it’s actually what’s KEEPING you from experiencing contentment all the rest of the time?
What’s the point?
How Does it Impact YOU?
I’m curious, how does this culture of competition impact you on the pickleball court? Or off the pickleball court, for that matter?
I’d like you to think about it for a minute: What is it that YOU get from winning a game that you DON’T get from losing it?
Either way, you get exercise.
Either way, you could be laughing and joking with the other team.
Either way, you could be focusing on improving your shots.
I’ll ask it again:
What do YOU get from winning a single pickleball game that you DON’T get from losing it?
Please post your comment below to keep the conversation going.
Yes, It IS Impacting You…
Now of course, there are bound to be a few of you who are saying, “But, Prem, I know exactly what you mean. There’s this one guy who is always bent on winning every game and he’s a real @$$ about it. He should read this article.”
Yes, maybe he should and please forward it on to him. But I’d also like to invite you to take this article as an opportunity to look at how the culture of competition and winning is impacting YOU.
Generally with something like this, there’s a tendency to either “submit” or “rebel.” If you’re not engaging IN the competitiveness, then you’re most likely rebelling against it. But, just like a teenager who’s out past curfew (deluding herself into believing she’s “free” of her parents) as long as you’re rebelling against it, it’s still impacting and controlling you.
What If It Was Different?
I challenge you to notice in yourself your attachment, elation or frustration related to winning. Imagine how different a game might be if your foursome wasn’t so bent on winning.
- Maybe instead of giving you the shot I always make and know you never get, I’d give you your BEST shots so that I could practice my placement and defense.
- Maybe instead of hitting to the weaker player on my team, you’d hit to the stronger player so that you’d be improving your game. And not just improving your game so that you could WIN the next time you compete, but improving your game for the sake of finding out how good you could be.
- Maybe instead of sighing and rolling your eyes when your partner misses his shot, you’d be able to genuinely smile and be content knowing that you’re healthy and fit enough to even be ON the court playing. Whether you’re 72 or 32, that’s actually something to be quite grateful for if we take the time to slow down and stop making it all about winning.
I invite you to start up conversations about it while you’re waiting to get on the court. Here are some questions you could ask:
- Isn’t competition interesting? Do you remember when you first learned that losing was a bad thing?
- I’m curious, what are you thinking about or focused on in a game where the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion?
Great article Prem! I admit in getting too caught up in winning or when I lose. Your artilce will make me take a different approach when I play. Thanks.
I love your newsletters and always learn a lot from them! This is a very interesting topic for me as far as competition as I have “battled” (see, I even compete with myself :-)) it for years with playing in a variety of sports settings. I just finished my first tournament playing in the 4.0 division and I was thrilled beyond belief to have won 2 matches and lost two matches. My partner, on the other hand, is used to medaling and wasn’t so thrilled. To me, if I play my best and still lose, that’s all part of the game. Playing at the 4.0 level is a whole different kind of play as you know…but I need to remember my friends that are playing in the 3.5 and below levels also as it’s not all about winning as you said. I am still working on this as I am by nature, a competitive person, but I am also a nice person and want to treat everyone as equals since We Are All One and play with everyone!! It’s a learning process and I am so glad you brought up this topic as I look forward to what other players say about it. I find that the 4.0 players will dwell on bad calls or the way they played for hours or days after a tournament game that was lost and I don’t want to be that player. PB should be fun-it’s a game people!!
And the “Big Dogs” as I call the upper level players, need to be reminded of that from time to time….including myself :-)).
Thanks again for a great newsletter and I may need to buy your book. It looks good! Play on and enjoy every moment-Mariann, just another crazy PB addict :-)). What did we ever do for fun in our lives before PB??