Losing is the best, except it’s absolutely terrible
Several weeks ago, a satirical radio program in Canada entitled “This is That” aired a story about a new “no-ball” soccer league, the intent of which was to eliminate winning and losing entirely so that none of the “competitors” would feel slighted when it turned out that their team actually kind of sucked in comparison to everyone else ever in the history of soccer (youth soccer leagues can be kind of difficult like that). The Washington Times picked up the story as well.
As with almost all fake stories, a number of people believed this one to be true, and the shock quickly followed. What type of sport can be played without a ball or a score? Is not competition the thing that makes sports worthwhile? Is there any more heinous assault against all that sports-lovers hold dear than such a proposition? I would contend that there is not.
Competition is one of the most valuable things that sports have to offer society because it has implications far beyond the sports world. The entirety of life is full of little competitions. Did I get the job? Did I get the internship? Did I get promoted? The list goes on and on. From its earliest stages, life is a competition, and sports as a whole embody this.
From time to time, though, efforts are made to devalue the precious gift that is competition. It is a telling sign that people were so easily convinced that the “no-ball” league discussed in the article was real. I recall, for example, T-ball as a young child, in which the league kept no official score and there were no official winners or losers. The aim of doing so was certainly admirable: let kids get in shape without ruining their love of the game. Let them play because they enjoy it, not because they are good at it; the benefits of a sport should not be denied to these children because they cannot handle what could be labeled as detriments.
However, I see two main problems with such a devaluation of competition.
First: whether it is plainly stated who the winners and losers are, winners and losers still exist. One team scored more runs than the other. One team scored more goals than the other. One team outperformed the other. (This, of course, does not consider ties, which are basically nothing more than double-losses.) Merely because there is no official quantification of this reality does not diminish the truth of it. Denying the existence of winners and losers has a secondary purpose of denying any sort of performance-based evaluation, of denying that there is any such thing as “better” or “worse.” At its heart, this is a lie. Sometimes it truly does just suck to suck.
Second: to remove competition is to remove the force that causes people to improve. If no one or nothing is better than any other, then there is no reason for me or anyone else to work to improve themselves. If an “A” is just as good as a “C,” then there is no reason for me to attain to an “A.” When it comes to life, a hierarchical ordering of goods is requisite for personal improvement. Removing competition from sports removes this lesson from sports, and this lesson is vital.
The diminution of the competitive aspect of sports on any level is not just detrimental because it is contrary to the very nature of sports; it is detrimental because it removes from sports all the fabulous lessons it teaches participants about life as a whole. Sometimes life sucks. Sometime you lose. But the more important lesson is this: that’s why you work, and that’s why you push yourself—to be the best at the end of the day. By lessening the amount of competition in sports, we do those playing a disservice.
While the story about the “no-ball” league may not be true, that does not mean that it doesn’t hold an important warning: if we don’t value competition, we may lose it. And if we lose competition, what do we really have left?