I learned this lesson at an early age when I played my good friend (also named Jeff) for our town’s youth badminton championship. In our age group, Jeff was probably the town’s best athlete, talented in all sports. Although not as athletic or physically mature as Jeff, my ability was close to his.
Our match that day was well-played from the beginning. Each point was closely contested. Unforced errors were few and far between. As the match progressed,
As the town’s recreation supervisor presented us with our trophies, he told us that he had never seen a better competition at our age. Both Jeff and I knew how well we had played - and how each of us had brought out the best in the other. Even years later, when I came to have an edge on Jeff in high school athletics, we occasionally made reference to that special, fulfilling moment when we were young boys.
If you only equate success in sports to winning, and base your self-esteem on this value, you will inevitably sacrifice the greater rewards that come from playing sports. Striving to win is important—it’s the ultimate real world measure of your preparation and play. But if you see winning and losing only in absolute terms, and not relative to you and your team’s quality of play and effort, you will lose out on countless moments of joy that sports can provide.
Everybody likes to win, and you should try your best to achieve this result. But sometimes being part of a great contest, or performing to the best of your abilities, is deeply satisfying in and of itself.