THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Is self-esteem conditional? It shouldn't be.
Our psychological health should be unconditional. It shouldn't be dependent on our experiences with wins and losses. Losing, which happens more often than winning and can have a direct connection with low self-esteem, is an inherent part of competition. So why do we let it affect our self-esteem if it is actually more common than we realize?
But the bigger question to ask is this: is there reason to think that competition is always psychologically damaging to some degree?
If losing has the possibility of dragging us down, does winning have the possibility of uplifting us beyond what should feel good? The rush of winning can lift us beyond our normal level of high self-esteem, almost to the point of looking down on our rivals. There's nothing wrong with winning or enjoying it, but it stands to reason that it has the same potential that losing does to affect our psychological health.
No matter the situation or the outcome, our psyche should have little to no connection to the result or outcome of a competition. It's okay to like winning, and it's okay to be a little down when you lose. But put it in context of these discussions to make sure you still are okay with yourself!
We continue our discussion on self-esteem by examining one thing: anticipation.
If you've ever heard the saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," then you can relate to this direct connection. The higher the stakes, the harder it is to accept losing. The more we invest, the more we can potentially lose. Ultimately, the more importance we put on winning, the more destructive is losing.
Sometimes, the investment in success comes naturally. If our team makes it to the Super Bowl, where one game of 60 minutes of football determines the champion of the NFL for that season, we naturally put a lot of importance on winning that particular game because we are so close to the championship. But if our team loses, does that mean our team failed to have a successful season? Does that mean our investment in the team reflects upon us and should lower our self-esteem?
What furthers this is the anticipation of losing. When we put so much emphasis and importance on winning, we naturally build up an anticipation of the possibility of not succeeding as well. This anticipation contributes to the problem: we can't possibly bear to lose, for if we do, it will be a catastrophe!
Failure is a natural part of life. Disappointment is inevitable. We can be sad we didn't win. We can be frustrated as well. But perhaps it should never rise to a level where it becomes unreasonable or unsafe.
In our continued discussion on self-esteem and how it relates to sportsmanship and competition, consider the following:
Why does losing lead to poor self-esteem? Well, perhaps it is because most competitors lose most of the time!
Think about it statistically. The best probability is a 50/50 chance when the competition consists of two teams (or just competitors). So when competitions increase to more than just two competitors, the odds change and each team has a better chance to lose than to win; that probability of losing directly increases as the number of competitors increases. As such, people who compete are exposed to much more failure than success, whether it be athletics or a simple contest.
Further, this is just a macro view of failure being rampant in competition. Specific examples such as the science (or art) of hitting in baseball drive the point home. The best hitters in baseball, on average, get a hit three out of every ten times they come up to bat. That means that the greats who are enshrined in the Hall of Fame failed seven out of every ten times!
If people feel the need to prove themselves worthy by winning, they're in for a rude awakening. The worst thing we can do is attach our self-esteem to whether we win or lose at any competition.
The next few weeks will dive into a discussion about competition and its relationship with self-esteem.
We live in a society and a culture where we set benchmarks and expectations in the social arena. It's not even about who makes the most money or who is the most successful in life. Instead, it's about whether you have moved out of your parents' home, whether you've found a partner, started a family, etc., and having accomplished all of these things as quickly as possible. The person who lives on his own at 21 years old is apparently more successful than the person who lives with his parents at 35 years old in the competition of life.
This relates to the idea of independence vs. dependency. The person who is able to support himself and do everything without the help of others is, according to the above standard, winning. The person who needs the assistance of others is losing. It's not an exact science: surely, there are people who are taking advantage of the system. But in a vacuum, we are judging others (even subconsciously) based on accomplishments rather than character.
Not only is this line of thought a fallacy based on moral judgment, but now it has scientific evidence. Studies show that cooperation (dependency) actually leave people feeling better about themselves, as opposed to the alternative of competition (independence). Cooperation promotes control within oneself, whereas competition does the opposite. As such, people who work with others (as opposed to against them) find themselves feeling more in control of their own lives. So if the goal is to be in control of your own life, the solution is not to compete within society to meet those standard benchmarks of independence, but rather to cooperate and accept the necessity of dependence in certain areas. After all, don't we rely on others to do things for us in order to allow us to be successful? I don't have the ability to dry clean my clothes, compound my own prescriptions, or perform all four parts of my jazz quartet; I depend on others to do those for me.
The sooner we accept dependency and cooperation as the way of life (as opposed to life being a competition to gain independence as soon as possible), the more independent we will actually be.
There was a large chunk of my early high school years spent in front of a television with my Nintendo 64 powered up for too many consecutive hours while my friends and I became almost numb to what it took to play each game, regardless of what it was. Eyes were glazed over; thumbs and other fingers were calloused; and bodies were thankfully still young enough not to feel the effects of being in the same position for too long, so long as the stimulation in our brains was at maximum speed.
Out of all the games we played, the one that dominated the first two years of high school for us was GoldenEye 007.
This game was revolutionary for the industry. I'm not sure I would say it was ahead of its time, but the impact it had on how future games were developed and produced was outmatched only by the staying power it had to capture people and bring them back to the game years later, regardless that graphics had advanced significantly beyond mere polygons.
Beyond the ability to bring friends together for hours of entertainment, the single-player mode was equally as enthralling, and not just for the regular game-play. There was something else that fueled our fire: cheats.
Cheats were not negative in this sense. Normally, in dealing with sportsmanship, we hear the word "cheat" and we renounce it. However, in this case, cheats were unlockable modes that altered the coding in the game purely for entertainment purposes. They included Paintball Mode (where every gunshot produced a paintball splatter), Fast/Slow Animation (where the non-playable characters would move at different speeds), and All Guns (which unlocked all the guns for you to use in each level).
Cheats were unlocked via a time trial. So if you finished a level on a certain difficulty setting under a specific time, you would unlock that cheat. And there were two cheats that probably drove most players crazy in trying to unlock them: Invisibility and Invincibility.
Invisibility required you to complete the Archives level on the hardest difficulty level in under 1 minute 20 seconds, whereas Invincibility required you to complete the Facility level on the hardest difficulty level in under 2 minutes 5 seconds. To say my friends and I discussed and debated and tested everything under the sun regarding how to achieve these feats is an understatement. In fact, I'm quite surprised we didn't have laboratories set up with white boards and corresponding diagrams to help show the amount of brain power we used for this. However, in hindsight, it definitely makes me wish we had done this and provided significant evidence of doing this in order to earn some sort of advanced college credit while still in high school...seriously, we should have written multiple dissertations.
So much of my free time would be spent trying to beat each level under the required times. I'd restart levels immediately if I screwed up. I'd yell at the television if I missed it by one second. I would cripple with anxiety in my gut as I waited to see if I had finally achieved my goal, only to crumple in disappointment each time I would be significantly short. I imagine many of my teachers would have wished I spent more time doing other things...seriously, can you imagine where I would be if I used all those hours practicing music or taking extra swings in the batting cage?
The point here, however, is that this leisurely recreational activity that took so many hours proved a very important point: there was no need for significant competition with another person to ensure entertainment.
In Alfie Kohn's book "No Contest," which presents various arguments against competition, one section is dedicated to the idea that competition is needed to ensure entertainment. In other words, how can we have fun without competing? And is fun only had if we win? When I read this section, my experiences with GoldenEye came to mind immediately because it checked every box:
Ultimately, although Kohn's book is clearly to the extreme side against competition, one wonders if the objective is more so to get the reader to meet the extremist in the middle and compromise on some of the ideas regarding competition. That's where I find myself: understanding that competition needs to be viewed in an almost omniscient point of view, rather than being so invested in it that it is easy to lose sight of reality.
Oh, how easy it is to forget this while so invested in GoldenEye! But the lesson is easily learned: there are infinite ways to find entertainment without the vicious requirement of cutthroat competition.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.