HomeSportCompete to become competent

Compete to become competent

school of sport with TIM MIDDLETON

The two teams line up on the field before the start of the match. Both teams are prepared and focussed; both have their game plan, with each player knowing what they have to do. They have both prepared their players physically; they have both developed their tactics, their formation and their moves. Furthermore, they have also both considered their opposition, worked out what tactics, formation and moves they will use and they have formulated plans to overcome them. Both coaches speak of how talented, able, strong and effective their team is, how prepared they are. They all believe they have what it takes to win; if they did not, they would not go onto the pitch. Both teams are quietly confident, suitably excited and completely ready. Problem: only one team wins. Does that mean the team that does not win is useless? Were they deluded in thinking they could win?

Consider a further but similar example from the academic world. A child studies hard through the year, covering the whole syllabus. She revises every aspect of it prior to the exam, using past papers, exploring all possible types of questions that may be asked. She goes over exam techniques to remind herself how to approach the upcoming examination. She is well-prepared and confident. Does she really have to go through with the examination when we know how good she is?

Does she really have to sit the examination, and face the competition, to prove it?

In a previous article [Sickness not success in sport] we considered the view of Sadhguru, an Indian yogi, and author, when he described competition as a sickness when people use it to try to show they are better than others. He clarified it by saying that, “Those who do not have any sense of their own competence will become competitive because their only pleasure is being one step ahead of everyone else.” In effect, therefore, he is saying that competitive people do not have any sense of their own competence, presumably because they are having to go out and prove it, and do so by showing they have beaten others.

Maybe, however, there is a different way of looking at it. Competitive people are in fact extremely aware of their competence and that is why they are willing and able to compete. In contrast, someone lacking in competence is no doubt also lacking in confidence and such a person will be less likely to commit to any competition, for fear of losing or of being shown up as being incompetent. Whatever our take, all of the above simply shows that competing and competence (not to mention confidence) do have a close association so what is it?

In 2015 the Forbes organisation identified what they saw as the ‘Three Core Competencies Of Successful Teams’, competency being the key, which were firstly, the Ability To Respond To Adversity (to get up off floor, to cling on for life, to overcome challenge); secondly, A Profound Commitment To Succeed In Spite Of The Facts (where there is a will there is a way) and thirdly, the Will To Resolve And Move Through Conflict Very Quickly (this can and must be addressed by us). Someone who has those attributes is competent and competitive. Such a person will show he is equipped with knowledge, judgment, strength and skills, which will enable him to act in a wide variety of situations. It shows that he has an awareness of who he really is and what he can do, of others (their rights, roles and reasons) and of opportunities stemming from the situation.

The fact is, we do not know what questions we may be asked in an exam. We do not know what the opposition might do. Our competence is shown in how we deal with the questions asked, the tactics used, the formation employed, the players selected. We need look no further than our current plight to discover if we have been competent to deal with the coronavirus. We have faced an enemy, a strong opponent in the form of the virus, and competing against it has served to reveal the true extent of our competence. The fact is, if we are not stretched we will not know the extent of our competence — just jumping over the bar at the same height does not bring about improvement or development, even if it simply shows we are competent to do that; we need to push ourselves, to stretch ourselves, to test ourselves, in order to ascertain fully our competence. We will never know how effective or competent we really are until we are put into a situation where we are tested, examined, not in terms of being better than others, but of how we perform — and competitive sport provides such an opportunity. We compete in order to become competent. Come on! Game on!

l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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