Compete For Fun, Compete To Train... Don't Compete To Win?

Bin is back, folks! In this installment, my favorite Asian chef from Texas who's name is Bin dicusses the usefulness of competition in a different light. Thrusting himself into DC's Most Primal, a competition that he had little preparation for, gave him some personal insight into the benefits of competing. Read on for some goodness...

If anyone who read the last post and thought that it was a bit extreme, well, I'd certainly agree. While it's certainly helpful to be able to pull up that deep emotional state for an extra edge, how healthy can it be all the time? Chef's can't always be creative, writers can't always produce, and athletes can't always keep themselves that high-strung. We need rest, rejuvenation, and to simply get away from time to time. There's no reason you can't stay competitive within your sport and without, but sometimes it's important just to compete for fun, for training.....but not necessarily to win.

I've had the opportunity to train with a couple high level teams in the past, where pressure was a constant - to beat the other guy, to beat yourself, in competition and in training every day. The sport itself was individual, which meant that although there was teamwork and camaraderie in training, ultimately you had to beat everyone around you. One team happened to be one of, if not the best in the nation for several years running: The atmosphere was militaristic, high-stress, and emotionally grueling, but it produced like few others could. It has and continues to create top-tier MMA fighters and repeat world champions in grappling, but that wasn't without a price. For every individual that made it to the top there were others that had fallen out as a symptom of the environment. Many were injured, many dropped out from overtraining (which as a concept didn't exist; everyone just cursed their bad health and hobbled along until it "went away"), and sometimes people just lost it altogether. One national champion walked away for several months, becoming a competitive salsa dancer for a while, and another internationally-ranked grappler disappeared to live the expat life in Guam. Both of these guys, though, are extreme examples and have since returned to the sport as instructors.

In any case, though I was never faced with the same pressures as these top-tier guys, training with them and being in that same environment meant that I picked up that same viewpoint - competition and training had that same gravity, and if I couldn't give everything to every moment there simply wasn't a point to me trying at all. While on the one hand this meant that I was incredibly motivated whenever I did train or compete, over time I learned to dread everything, even as a concept. In my mind going to a competition meant weeks of dedicated training time, controlled meals, and a complete and utter mental focus at the cost of everything else in my life. There was no option to compete casually or on a lark; it was either all or nothing. Eventually it got to the point where I could only compete a few times a year, needing at least a month or two to decompress afterwards. Suffice to say, I started enjoying it less and less to the point where, unless I knew I could show significant improvement, I didn't want to go at all.

This attitude stayed with me until I took my first intentional "off-season." After my most recent Olympic Weightlifting meet I decided my next big competition would be the American Open in 2012, and knew that I had to seriously plan my training if I were serious about even qualifying, and my first decision was to take real time off from O-lifting before embarking on a 2 year training plan. I decided to pick up another sport during this time, and my choice ended up being, of all things, Crossfit. It certainly wasn't new to me; Crossfit had introduced me to Olympic Weightlifting, but doing the actual competitions was never something I had considered; Crossfit had always been a training supplement for other sports, and to me it was simply another tool in the toolbox, never a thing in and of itself.

Entering my first Crossfit competition was quite the experience. Suddenly the same emotions were welling up again - those same feelings of urgency, panic, desire, and fear from before, except this time, there was no pressure. There was no team resting on me, no name on my arm nor patch on my back, no posse ready to take down any judge that gave me a faulty ruling. I was just there for me and no one else. No particular outcome meant that I won or lost, that my training had succeeded or failed me - I was just there to see what I could do. Suddenly, competition was a test that I was posing to myself, rather than an expected outcome, where winning was a given unless I found out a way to screw it up.

I found this to be marvelously freeing. It was still a competition, of course, and though I wanted to place as high as I could I understood that my results were simply a reflection of the training I had done up to that point - nothing more. They had no bearing on me as a person, on whether or not I was good or bad, lazy or hard-working - these may sound obvious, but mindsets that are ground in for years are hard to get away from. If my performance lacked here or there, it was because my training was missing this or that. It was a learning experience, something that would improve my training in the future, something that would only benefit me regardless of how well or how poorly I performed. I could still channel those same corners of my head from before, but this time I was using those feelings as I pleased, rather than as a slave to them. Losing no longer meant that I had colossally screwed up something that was already in the bag.

Being out of my element and competing in a new sport brought on the understanding that our results are a reflection of the total sum of our training up to the moment of competition. Regardless of judging, the particulars of that day, or freak accidents, our performance will always only be a marker for where we are in our journey. If we're suddenly sick or injured, then the results will just show how prepared we are to deal with adverse conditions. If our training has made us the a champion, it'll reflect that, and if our training has made us stagnant, well, it'll show that too. In training we pick our cards and get them in order, but once the day comes it's too late to change what we've already got - we can only play the hand we've given ourselves, and really there's no point in worrying much on the mat, the field, or wherever. In a way, this might even mean that our competitions are really won or lost in the training we do; our performance in the actual events are only really meaningful for the purpose of officiation. In any case, that pressure that we place on ourselves on gameday must be kept in perspective with what we can actually control at that point, and not be allowed to run our lives. Perhaps it's helpful, even healthy sometimes, to compete with a solid dose of pressure to win in your veins, but it wasn't until I competed without it that I realized that it is simply a motivator, nothing more. Just another tool in my toolbox to get me where I want to go.

Bin focusing just before Event 2 at DC's Most Primal... in a V-neck

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