To Win or to Enjoy the Experience by Jim Crowell, OPEX

Competitions don’t happen every day. They seem distant as you begin your training cycle to prepare, but then you blink and somehow the competition is knocking on your door. The stress of that realization can feel immense … but does it really need to? Should you put the weight of the world into one competition?

As we like to say at OPEX… “It depends.”

Now, before you burn the boats, let me explain where we’re coming from. Every competition has people who are there to win or qualify and others who are simply there for an amazing experience. Who are you or who are your clients?

At OPEX, we often see a disconnect between expectations and stress levels within our clients. What’s so crucial to remember is that less stress during a competition does not mean you or your clients didn’t prepare as well or as smartly as they could have. What it does mean is that your expectations need to be clear so you can head into the competition and have the best experience possible without adding any undue stress.

With that in mind, let’s define great experience. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines experience (among other ways) as, “the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality.” Take a moment and re-read that. All it says is that you are “perceiving” events or reality. You aren’t making them up. You aren’t guessing. You are INSIDE of it.  You are IN THE MOMENT.

How many times have you gotten so riled up about your placement only to realize that you missed the point of the competition? A competition is about seizing the moment. It’s about taking the time to enjoy a few breaths as you walk off of the competition floor. And it’s absolutely about enjoying the experience with those you care about.

Let’s consider the types of athletes who compete in competitions:

  • Athletes who have the skill set, tools, and mental game to qualify or win
  • Athletes who make it into a competition but who really don’t have a chance to make it to the podium (we are not trying to throw a wrench in your plans. We’re merely saying it’s perfectly ok to go into a competition without a chance at the podium)
  • Athletes who want to compete just to enjoy their community or the broader community within the competition (the Granite Games being a great example)

Regardless of which bucket you’re sitting in, there are similarities between them and how you enjoy the experience. Here are some keys to creating your own carpe diem experience:

Define what the experience is that you’re after – If you’re there for a podium spot, then get excited to fight for every second, get excited for the stress that surrounds the ups and downs of a competition and be prepared for the battle you’ll have with the other competitors who want to put you in the ground.  If you’re competing for the experience, then allow the stress that surrounds the challenges of the fight to subside, enjoy the crowd’s noise and meet new people who may become long-term friends.

Take the time during the competition to make sure you’re “on the right track” – This is where so many athletes forget to enjoy the ride. I was competing at Regionals a few years ago and I was failing on legless rope climbs. For a second, I thought to myself, “you’re embarrassing yourself.” And then, perhaps out of pure luck, I noticed the crowd was really getting behind me. I couldn’t help but look up into the stands and smile. Imagine that moment for somebody like me. I had no chance at all of winning, but I was lucky to have had the conversation with my coach, James Fitzgerald, who made sure my expectations were clear. I don’t think I would have had that moment had James not enlightened me about the reality of the situation. It’s something I will never forget.

When the dust settles from an event or a competition, reflect on the experience – Life is about awareness.  If you never take a quiet moment to understand something important in your life, you won’t be able to continue to grow as an athlete. Within that competition, whether you achieved your lifelong goals or missed them by a long shot, take the time to learn and enjoy the experience.  It’ll make the next go around that much more enjoyable.

A competition like the Granite Games has athletes of all makes and models, and you’re one of them. It can be enjoyed greatly whether you are going to win, going to place, or going to show up. All of those scenarios are noble because you’re putting yourself on the line and there is nothing better. If you’re competing, take the steps to enjoy and be aware of the experience. If you’re a coach to an athlete, help them set their expectations and stay in the moment so they can get the most out of the hard work they’ve put into their training and the competition itself.

Go get ’em!

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