When you listen to a surfer talk about why they love surfing you will hear them talk about a oneness with the ocean. When you ask a fisherman what their favorite part about fishing is, don’t be surprised if they say the serenity they feel when they are the only boat on the water as the sun peaks over the trees. So many activities we love to do are enjoyable because they are an escape from the pressure of day-to-day life. These activities allow us to relax, unwind, and re-center ourselves. When we look at sports in this light, having a competition seems like the farthest thing from complimentary. So this raises the question: do contests, leagues and tours lose sight of what certain activities are all about?
There are certain sports that can only be played as a contest. You cannot play baseball without competing against another team and boxing would be downright strange with only one man in the ring. But for a sport like surfing it can be argued that a contest diminishes the enjoyment. No longer is a day on the water about harnessing mother nature’s power to get away from an otherwise hectic life – it’s no longer about spending time with friends. Instead surfing becomes about making money. Being excited for another surfers great wave turns into pulling on that surfers leash or dropping in on them because you have priority. And for fishing, a quiet day on the lake turns into a sprint to yank in the largest fish possible with little chance to enjoy the surroundings. Most of us partake in these activities to get away from work, but contests, especially for those who are trying to make a living, bring the stress of work to a normally enjoyable activity.
Or maybe they don’t. Maybe contests don’t hurt the pureness of our sports at all. Sure there are a few competitors out there that lose sight of the bigger picture, who forget that at the end of the day it’s still a hobby for most people. But those competitors are not indicative of everyone who competes. Contests and tournaments are actually capable of doing a great deal of good for their sport, as well as for those who partake. Contests can bring together competitors who would otherwise never have met. This encourages the sharing of ideas, techniques, and strategies, which can help grow our sports even more. And the amount of innovation that takes place due to competitions is unfathomable. Some of the most jaw dropping tricks we see on surfboards, skateboards, and skis are because athletes were trying to one up each other to take home first place. At the end of the day if the contest life is just too much for anyone, they can always just go back to fishing with their buddies or carving down their local mountain – no strings attached.
It’s easy to think that the ultra competitive world of professional tournaments and events leads athletes and participants away from the pure art of sport. Some athletes do lose sight of why they became involved in the first place. But its important to remember our sports and activities could not have attained the level of attention and spectacular-ness without the thrill of victory and competition spurring us forward. So maybe the question is not “Are competitions what’s best for our sports?” but rather “Are competitions what’s best for me?”