Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Competition and sportsmanship

Recently I watched the movie Blue Crush (Widescreen Collector's Edition) with my twin teenage daughters. Blue Crush tells the story of a young lady surfer who wants to compete in an upcoming national event. However, she has to fight her own fears because of a previous surfing accident. Naturally, the plot follows the formula of almost all sports movies. Blue Crush is not a great movie but it’s not bad either. The conclusion of the movie takes a slight detour from the usual. The heroine, Ann Marie, makes it through the first round when her competitor wipes out on a massive wave. (The film takes place in Hawaii where the famous Banzai Pipeline is the scene of major competitions. I visited the Pipeline a long time ago and was impressed by the ferocity of the waves. The movie also uses professional women surfers for the final competition scene including Keala Kennelly.)

In her first heat Ann Marie takes a spill right after her competitor falls and has to leave the competition with a back injury. Ann Marie’s ankle leash gets caught on the reef so that she in unable to reach the surface until she can release the leash. Ann Marie gets to move to the second heat because her opponent can’t proceed but she doesn’t want to go out on the water again. Her romantic interest, an NFL quarterback, stops by the medical tent to check on her. He starts to tell a story how he was blindsided and drilled. She says, “So you got back into the game and won it, right?” He says that his coach talks him into going back in, does not win the game, gets pounded some more but he vividly remembers a perfect touchdown pass. Ann Marie decides to go back in, against Keala Kennelly.

In Ann Marie’s first attempt she wipes out then gets pounded by a series of waves. When she returns for her final attempt Kennelly tells Ann Marie to follow her to a place where the waves break better, tells her which wave to catch then cheers on Ann Marie as she takes the ride of her life and gets a perfect score from the judges. Her score is not enough to overtake Kennelly but Ann Marie doesn’t care because she overcame her fears and rode the wave perfectly. Kennelly gives her a high five afterwards. One of the cameramen watching Ann Marie celebrating her performance with her family and friends asks a colleague, "Doesn’t she realize she lost?”

So why does this sequence stand out for me? I think it points to several key points about competition.

  1. Competing against a strong rival can bring out your best. Speaking from experience, I know that playing tennis against an opponent who is equal or better than me gets more out of me than if I was just working off a backboard or against a weaker player.
  2. Which leads to the fact that competition can be a form of collaboration if both participants share this spirit. They recognize that hard competition can bring out the best in each other. This is why Kennelly cheers on Ann Marie. In essence she is saying, “If you’re going to beat me, do it with your best stuff.” This is where Blue Crush avoids presenting the adversary as evil or nasty.
  3. Winning isn’t everything, but trying to win is. (According to books I’ve read recently Vince Lombardi actually said this, not “Winning is the only thing.”) There is no shame in losing as long as you try your best.
  4. If you have a strong self-esteem then losing to a worthy opponent does not threaten how you feel about yourself. Losing might not be fun and you might feel miserable for a while, especially if you did not perform up to your standards, but it should not lead to resorting to cheating to get the win.

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