Tuesday, 7 January 2014

What It Means to Be Competitive

What It Means to Be Competitive

Hello everyone, for my first blog post, I’d like to discuss my views on competition and what I find “being competitive” really entails.

Competition is a huge aspect of my life, and one that I feel everyone should be exposed to at an early age. Many do not really enjoy competition though, particularly Type B personalities. However, I still insist on exposure to competition and a competitive atmosphere because of one simple fact; competition will not go away but only increase as one gets older, especially in our society. You will always have to compete to get into the best schools, to apply for jobs, to advance in your career, in nearly every aspect of life.

I do not see competition as a means to “beat” other people though. To me, having an attitude like that is self-limiting, what is the point of competing when you’re at the top? I’ve summarized what it means to be competitive and the purposes of competition in a few simple points:

1. Being Competitive Means Having a Vision

As an individual, you want to make yourself stand out from the crowd, you want to be the best that you can possibly be. Once you are in a leadership role, you want to make your organizational unit the best out of all others. The most important way to achieve either of these goals is to set a vision.

When a vision is not set by the corps, by the team, by you yourself, there is no progress; you are treading water, desperately trying to keep your head up above the surface when you should be swimming to the next island.

Having a competitive mindset means to always set achievable goals, and striving to make those goals a reality.

2. Competition Means Knowing Where the Bar is Set

Exposure to competition means exposure to experience. When you exclude yourself from competition, you are limiting your perspective to your own little bubble. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one should be a copycat and do whatever the flavor of the month is, but it means that thoughtful observation and reflection should be made.
"When you exclude yourself from competition, you are limiting your perspective..."
“What is it that makes that team/individual win all the time?”, “Can I adapt that to my own style?”, “Have I been doing things wrong?”, these (and more) are questions you should be asking yourself. Being competitive and seeing what you’re up against lets you know where the bar has been set; what the standard of excellence really is. Performance that you may have deemed good for yourself may just be average (or even below!) in the grand scheme of things.

There are countless, I reemphasize, countless cadet units that have never fielded a team to drill competitions. You can instantly tell by the standard of performance that they have set for themselves. You do not lose face when you come back from competition empty-handed, especially if it’s your team’s first time ever. In reality, you’re the biggest winner because you’ve gained the most exposure and experience out of every team there.

At last year’s Provincial Drill Championships, there was only a single team that represented the Northern BC region. They competed in the small team division but their performance fell quite far behind all others. But in the end it didn’t matter. Competing for the first time means swallowing your ego, putting your best effort in, and making learning your primary objective.

3. Competition Means Ownership

Ownership is expressed two ways when competing, both of which are important. When you compete you should own the competition itself (I call this external ownership) and own your performance (I call this internal ownership).

External ownership is a state of mind to deliver your best performance, regardless of all external factors. It is a very hard concept to put into words. It is a mixture of confidence and charisma, being able to fill the area with your presence. When a team owns the drill floor, the range, the court, the ski hill, they don’t care how strong the other team is. They don’t care what mistakes they’ve made in the past. What they care about is making the competition theirs, they own the area, they own the podium.

Internal responsibility is a reflective experience and comes after the active portion of the competition. It is once again, ownership regardless of all external factors. Owning your performance is looking at where you have made mistakes and where you could have improved. It is assuming responsibility, which is vital to developing strong leadership skills. Say for example, you are a section commander at the local unit, you need to own the performance of both yourself and your section. It is being responsible for every small detail that can be improved upon, and taking action to improve them.

4. Competition Means Constant Improvement

No matter what one competes in, whether it is a formal competition or an ongoing process, competition means constant improvement and constant evolution. The question is then, how? One needs two things, a willingness to find new strategies and approaches to find that extra 1% of improvement, as well and a coach with an eye for detail and alternative ways of implementing these strategies.

For those that are unfamiliar with it, I’d like to introduce the concept of kaizen. This is a Japanese philosophy of constant, perpetual improvement, no matter how small. When on the range, it can mean shooting 1 point higher on average every practice. If you are a runner, even one tenth of a second faster on each practice soon adds up.

I’d like to take this concept further, and the end goal of performance to be perfection, yet knowing that perfection is impossible to attain. It may be hard to understand and apply for some younger readers on here, but it is putting the value in the journey itself that makes the improvement worthwhile. The goal of shining your boots every day isn’t just to have extremely shiny boots, it is to make you a more disciplined and hard-working person. It isn’t the end result that matters as much as how much you improve each time.

The last point that I’d like to make is on the idea of constantly evolving. That means constantly accepting and adapting to change as it occurs, not just in the rules of the game (as in formal competition), but in what life throws at you. The greatest resistors to change in any organization are always the first ones to be left behind. Instead, lead the curve, and be ahead of the game.

Ultimately, competition has little to do with your competitors and almost everything to do with yourself. It is game in which there are only winners, yet has no real ending. The intent of competing should always be to better yourself, no matter your level, and to raise your standard of excellence on a continuous basis. Never settle for good enough, because there will always be “better”. Own your performance so that you can own the podium.

Responsibility and adaptation go a long way and separates the elite from B-Grade competitors. Always remember, sometimes you medal, sometimes you don’t, but regardless you should always be learning, because that’s what matters the most.

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