I’m still knee-deep in reflections on tournament and competition after last weekend’s World Kuk Sool Association Midwest Tournament. Full disclosure: I’m a latecomer to this whole rah-rah-competition thing. I played a lot of co-operative games at Quaker camp as a child and the message I got (not to be confused with the message my parents were trying to give) was competition = bad. Mixed in with that is a deep and abiding love of winning. Seriously, y’all. I LOVE winning. I LOVE being first. Some part of me is still that kid slamming my pencil down at the end of the test to let everyone know I FINISHED FIRST. (And a love of winning should NEVER be confused with a love of competition. The one is self-focused; the other is community-focused.) So it is no stretch to say that I have had some complicated feelings about competition and pretty serious introspective work to get where I am, and the work continues every day.
Where am I today? I’m a professional cheerleader for competition. I can do that, in part, because of the support we at Kuk Sool Won of St. Paul give competitors and the structure and support of competition that sets the World Kuk Sool Association apart from any other organization I’ve ever witnessed or heard about. If the opportunities for competition given to our students weren’t organized and executed with the degree of professionalism and integrity that they are, I wouldn’t be cheerleading for them. I don’t sell what I don’t believe in.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Maybe you’re the parent or other loving adult careperson of a child competitor. Maybe you’re a teammate of a competitor. Maybe you’re the instructor or coach of a competitor. Whoever you are, if you have a person in your life you care about who engages in competition, there are some wonderful things you can do to support that person. Because this is the internet, I’m putting it in a list.
1. Get them there.
This may seem like a gimme, the easiest thing to do on the list. If you want to support a competitor, get them to the competition. Even better, get them to practice. Every. Single. One. Unless your beloved competitor is completely in charge of his or her own logistics (and since I’m mostly thinking of child competitors here, that’s seems unlikely), you have a role to play as transportation specialist. Things like missing practice opportunities and being late for events have a profoundly negative effect on competitors. Give them this most basic support and get them to every practice and to the competition on time. This goes for teammates and coaches, too. If you have a competitor struggling with logistics, solve the problem. We don’t support only the privileged competitors.
2. Get the information. All of it.
Yes, you should know the whens, where, whos, and whats. But I also urge you to find out the what-ifs, the in-case-of-emergencies, and the oops-now-whats. Often that information IS being given to competitors, but the parents or care-givers aren’t always in the loop (and how many of you know an 8 year old who is a complete and accurate transmitter of information?). I hear many not-quite-complaints from parents after competition about topics we covered well before competition. You can’t hear what you’re not there to hear, and if you can’t be there to get information when your competitor does, do the work and find it out on your own. Instructors and coaches, make sure you’re giving all the information or that you have a system in place that allows folks to get all the information.
3. Trust the judges.
When we watch our kids from the sidelines or even as another participating student in the same class, we feel pretty confident that we know what we’re seeing — after all, no one knows our children better than us. But I see difficulties arise sometimes because as well as parents know their kids, they sometimes vastly underestimate how little they know about Kuk Sool and everything else we’re doing out on the practice floor.
On tournament day, I see parents and other loving care-givers outraged and disappointed because they know, deep down in their souls, how well their child did. And the judges, apparently, didn’t. When you hear words like “bias,” or “don’t know what they’re doing,” or “discrimination” at a World Kuk Sool Association tournament, it’s an expression of a parent’s surety that they (the parent) KNOW that what they know about their child outweighs what judges know about Kuk Sool, how we’re instructed to judge, how martial arts instruction works, what scores “mean,” and how carefully WKSA constructs tournaments to ensure fairness and objectivity.
Who are those “biased” judges? They’re martial artists who have decades of experience as practitioners, instructors, and/or judges. And the people who are qualified to judge how well judges or instructors are doing their jobs at a tournament ARE JUDGING THEM. And who are those qualified people? They aren’t sitting in the stands or taking video of a division or wearing a “Proud dad of a martial artist” shirt. They haven’t learned what they know about competition by watching classes or even by being a student in classes. They’ve dedicated lifetimes to the practice of Kuk Sool Won. They’ve dedicated thousands of hours to teaching those judges or the instructors of those judges how to do Kuk Sool, how to teach Kuk Sool, and how to judge someone else doing Kuk Sool.
If you’re a parent of a competitor, be a parent. Be your child’s biggest cheerleader. Praise them for the things they do well. Remind them that nothing is more important than treating other people well, and them make sure they do it. Wipe their tears if they’re sad or disappointed. But please leave the judging and instructing and critique to the people who are best qualified to do it.
4. Let them lose.
I know, I know. I wrote a whole blog post about this already. But I’m going to repeat myself briefly.
Want to know the single best gift you can give a competitor? The idea that winning isn’t the way to gain your love and pride and that losing isn’t a disappointment. Winning can be a confirmation and recognition of hard work (sometimes), and losing can be a great way to identify areas of weakness or a spur to work harder or smarter. But neither is inherently good or bad. Pick a way of talking about, thinking about, and behaving about competition so that it’s just another way to learn, and you’ve created a way for your competitor to perform at any level and come out on top.