Student vs. Competitor


I realized something about myself tonight that’s worth noting.

It seems that when I approach a skill (say Table Tennis) I focus so much on being a student of the discipline that I almost ignore the element of competition altogether. That may not sound bad, but it is.

Essentially, when I study things, I study to master my technique. I don’t study to win. I want to win, or at least it would be nice to win, but it is far more important to me that I flawlessly execute my movements.

One could argue that I am not focused on the right thing for competition. I noticed this in my last tournament. I was working on doing x or y in my game, and I was losing. After one of the games a guy came up to me and said, “Why do you keep going to his forehand? He’s got a wicked shot on that side and he almost never misses! Don’t go over there!”

It was quite profound. I realized then that I wasn’t even paying attention to how to beat the guy. I found myself thinking, “Yeah, maybe I could beat him if I did that, but I should be able to beat him going to his forehand.” In short, in my mind I wasn’t winning because I wasn’t playing good enough.

To put it another way, finding the other guy’s weakness isn’t attractive to me. What I want to do is develop my own strengths instead — and subsequently overpower my opponent doing what I want to do. It’s utterly inefficent to do this without also attacking places where your opponent is weak.

I contrast this to my buddy Ken. He’s a competitor of the highest caliber. He’s the type to finds a new hobby and is competing in it at the regional level within a few months (when others would take years to do the same). He focuses directly on victory in competition. He masters technique as well, but the whole time he’s studying it, he’s studying with one goal in mind — winning. So if an opponent presents a weakness, he’s going to see it and be able to take advantage. I don’t seem to do that by default.

Perhaps I should do so more. I don’t want to do it so much that I lose what I love about my sport, but perhaps it’d be fun to win more often.

[ Dec 13, 2005 ]

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