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Competitiveness helps bring out the best in young athletes
By Bob Frisk | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/24/2008 12:03 AM

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Think back to your childhood. How did you handle losing?

Do you remember losing a simple board game to a friend and going ballistic?

How frustrating was it to run out of Monopoly money?

I was never what you would call a fierce competitor as a kid. As basically an only child (my sister is 6 years older), I often played board games against myself, particularly my all-time favorite All-Star Baseball with the spinner and player discs. I couldn't lose in that one.

My 10-year-old grandson is much more competitive than I was at that age. He simply does not like to lose. You should see him play air hockey or even foosball.

My daughter was more like me and had a much calmer approach in her softball days. Of course, she liked to win and she was fortunate to play on many successful teams, but winning didn't completely dictate her moods.

Susan also is the perfect sports fan today and doesn't climb out on the ledge when her family's favorites lose at the college or professional level. When she had her Packers, Brewers, Wisconsin and Indiana all lose on the same weekend, I didn't detect any major change in her attitude.

Disappointed, yes. Distraught, no.

Of course, she might take a quick glance at the ledge when son Mark's baseball, soccer or basketball teams lose a tough game.

I wasn't a good loser as a kid, but I also didn't pout or slam things around or stalk out of the room if I did lose.

Looking back, I probably kept too much inside. As I entered high school, I became a little more intense, particularly as an athlete. However, I still lacked the fire and competitive juices of many of my track and field teammates.

Actually, Russ Attis, our coach, had more fire and competitive juices than anyone on the team.

Some athletes are adrenaline junkies who feed off the crowds and noise. The bigger the event the better.

In my high school days, track-and-field crowds would go from a few fans in the stands at dual meets to large crowds at events like the Palatine Relays and the conference.

In fact, we were guaranteed a big crowd at the West Suburban Conference track and field meet each year at Riverside-Brookfield High School. It was held on the afternoon of a school day, and students were let out early. There were fan buses waiting to take them to the meet.

Yes, we had fan buses for a track meet. I'm not kidding.

Did I run faster because the crowds were bigger those four years? I doubt it, but the cheering didn't hurt.

I understood early in life that it's not enough just to want to do one's best.

You have to take that want and then set the action in motion that will bring about the goal. That's where competitiveness comes in.

Competitiveness is not having to win the game at all costs, but in winning as many moves or actions as you can. You're striving for continuous improvement. Doesn't it make sense that the sum of a lot of small wins in a game probably will add up to the big win?

Competitiveness helps young athletes overcome fears of failure or even having an off day physically. If you're a true competitor, you'll recognize those tough days and still focus on the positive, forgetting the excuses and developing a mind-set of simply doing your best.

Competitiveness is the sum of many ingredients that includes your practice and training habits, your positive attitude, healthy lifestyle, playing by the rules and playing as a good teammate and not just as an individual.

Nobody plays to lose. Remember, you're always playing against somebody who also wants to do their best.

You do not have to have great athletic ability to be competitive. I certainly wasn't the fastest runner on my track team. Not giving up and giving your all is being competitive.

If you're not all-conference or all-area or even a varsity starter, you still can enjoy your athletic experience in high school.

Having fun and being competitive are not mutually exclusive.

Competition in its best form is a test of yourself. The winners on that field or in that gymnasium are the young athletes who get the most out of themselves.