Originally published February 16, 2007.
Man it’s GREAT to win! It’s what we work for, what we spend our time training for, what we dream of at night trying to get to sleep, and, basically, as an athlete, what we live for. Once achieved, the typical reaction is a HUGE celebration with fists raised in the air, a loud yell, and a smile from ear to ear.
While this is a reaction, and probably NOT something that was planned, or thought out, unless it’s purely for show (which I’ve seen), reactions are instinctual.
But here’s the deal. I was taught a LONG time ago by my Father that victory is always a double-edged sword. For each victor, there is at least one vanquished. In our sport, usually, it’s at least 7 vanquished per heat. That means that an equal amount of physical and emotional pain is being experienced by the other athletes, at the exact same time that you’re celebrating and feeling tremendous.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not just trying to be politically correct by saying we need to spare the feelings of those who may lose. It’s OK to feel good about winning. Heck, the goal for most athletes is to win, and win as much as possible. What I’m saying is that if you’re a typical swimmer, you will race the same people year after year. You’ll race them at local invitationals, dual meets, and end-of-season championships. You’ll race them in the pool, yes, but you’ll also see them on deck, in the locker room, at the concession stand, and maybe even in math class or at your birthday party. They are your competitors, and it’s your job to battle them as fiercely as you can in the pool, but you also need to think about preserving the before and after. That’s what the term “friendly rivals” is all about. If you believe that it’s better to be a fierce competitor — someone who goes the fist-in-the-air route after every victory – and if you wish your rivals would also be fierce competitors so that they give you as tough a race as possible — then just wait until you get beat by a Fierce Competitor and watch THEM celebrate your defeat.
Every competitor deserves your respect prior to the race, so wish them the best, because their best will bring out YOUR best, which is what great competition is supposed to do. The word “compete,” after all, comes from the Latin word competere, which means to seek or strive together. Think about the races that mean the most to you, that gave you the greatest sense of accomplishment, and that are burned into your brain. Are they the ones you won by a mile? Probably not. They’re the ones where you experienced extreme pain while fighting for every stroke, gasping for air, and giving EVERYTHING in your soul to get to the wall…to touch just an instant ahead of your competitors. It’s just plain FUN to win these kinds of races.
Which brings me back to how you celebrate those races. While sometimes it’s difficult to control your emotions, there’s a competitive reason as to WHY you should usually stay somewhat restrained. There will always be a NEXT race.
You have the ability to shape your relationships with your fellow swimmers. Your behavior can create respectful competitors and friendly rivals, or Fierce Competitors whose goal it is to BEAT YOU. You have to imagine that a joyous, exuberant, celebratory victory in the face of your competitor, could serve as the fuel in their everyday training. The look on your face was because of their defeat, and that can hurt. It hurts enough to look for more pain in practice, to avoid that happening again. This I know from experience.
In college, I woke up every morning having to reach PAST a collage of my competitors’ pictures to turn off my alarm. I had cut out pictures of them celebrating victories, and I woke up remembering that, more often than not, I was somewhere in that race when they were celebrating. I didn’t like it, and I never hit the snooze bar after seeing the looks on their faces.
Of course, most of those guys are still very close friends today. Mostly because we respected what the other had to do to even BE in the race. Your competitors are basically the same. If you’re racing them, you’re on their level. You know the work they’ve put in…and that you’ve put in. You should show them respect, especially when you beat them.
The lesson in this article is to learn control during your victories. While the world popularizes touchdown dances, home-run kisses, and victory burnouts, don’t forget: Every time you do something like that, you’re fueling the tank of a competitor who’s out to get YOU the next time. Be careful what type of fuel you are. Besides…it’s good sportsmanship, which is also quickly becoming a lost art.