05 February 2016

Competition Has Its Place

We live with competition, and there's no escaping it. Yet, we do choose how competitive we are, in what competitions we participate, and to what degree we let others compete over us.

I am a wife, a mom, a teacher, and a volleyball coach. I am also a believer. While competition has its place, where is that place? Is it first, is it last? Is it ever sin? When is it good?

Some things are no-brainers:
My kids should not compete with social media for my attention.
My husband should not compete with my friends for quality time.

Then there are some arguable ones:
My students should not compete with each other to pass. (Yet some teachers make this their policy.)
My kids should not compete with each other for my attention. (But how do we avoid this when they are so young?)
Overseas missionaries should not compete with each other for a church's support. (?!)
Christians should not compete over who does the most "for God." (Or should they?)

As coaches in Asia, my husband and I have discovered that we need to instill a competitiveness in our players, a quality that seems to come naturally to athletes in America.  While our high school players are extremely competitive with grades, they are pretty casual with sports.  Therefore, a veteran coach once advised us to make our practice drills competitive...so they will learn the drive to win. We make them compete with each other over serving, passing, digging, setting, hitting, and blocking. We make them race against each other for sprints and go head-to-head for push-up challenges. These rivalries engage a new motivation: competition.

Yet at the same time, one of the greatest lessons we hope to teach our player is this: We never want our opponents to play badly. We don't trash talk. We don't tease. We don't play mind games on social media. To play honestly and fair and God-honoring, we must desire to have their best against our best. Only then can we be proud of a victory. 

In other words, we don't push others down in order to stand taller.

While we may wish that competition was quarantined to sports and games, it's not. Still, we can take the principles of honest athletic competition to the difficult rivalries we face in relationships and ambitions and even Christian living.

My kids compete for my time. 
They can learn to value each other, to want the best for their siblings, to share and bless.
I must teach them this part of competition.

My students compete for the highest grade.
They can learn that grades show personal progress, that their own learning is more important than their ranking. They can learn to be competitive with classmates while still hoping their classmates do well too.
I must teach them this part of competition.

Moms compete over parenting preferences.
Yeah, this is so old. We are supposed to be on the same team, but since we do compare ourselves to each other, can we at least praise instead of criticize? Build up instead of stomp on?

Christians compete over godliness and service.
This is when we know it's law and not grace. Pharisees looked around to see where they ranked. Humble publicans looked to God and knew their unworthiness.

But--can we use the motivation of competition to do more good?
It works in volleyball. Can it work in parenting and Christianity?

To answer this, I'm going to tell a story:
I was in elementary school when the founder and superintendent of my small Christian school passed away. As a child, I remember standing in the back of the packed-out chapel during his memorial service. One of the speakers told of a momentous evening when he and his two friends challenged each other in a life-giving way. They said, "Let's see who can give the most of his life to God." In essence, they said, "Let's compete!" yet not in a "I'm going to beat you!" way. Their competition led to years of accountability, of encouragement, of motivation to be even more godly, more surrendered, and more available. And during his funeral, my superintendent was honored as "the winner" of that competition by his surviving friends.

Why did I never forget that story? I was so young. Maybe it was the first time I'd heard of competition in such a positive light. Maybe I wished someone would challenge me that way too. Maybe I realized I'd heard an important truth, and it stuck even with my little ears. Competition like this was good. It was motivating. It was uplifting. It was a unified "forward!"

And it is still possible--even in mothering, even in mission work, even in churches. Even in me.

Abide in Him,

Are you a competitive person? Do you tend to find more aggression or motivation in competition?
How can we use competition to become better people, better believers, better friends?

Join the conversation (and read more pieces) on "Compete" at Velvet Ashes' The Grove.

Related articles you may also appreciate:
Authenticity vs. Christlikeness
How My Exercise Dread Died
The Danger of Commiseration


  1. I love, love, love the line, "We don't push others down to stand taller." That's gold Malia.

  2. A "unified Forward"! I love that! And don't push others down to stand taller- this is so key. Great reminders!

  3. Thank you, thank you for sharing that story, Malia! I really believe in "holy" competition, good and healthy competition that motivates us all to do our best - but sometimes it's so hard to come up with good examples of it.

    and I LOVED this: "we don't push others down in order to stand taller." I guess that's where the main difference is: Are we competing because we want to be our best and spur others on to be their best, or are we competing so we can be "taller" than everyone else.

  4. One of my favorite photos as you helped coach our team to win the volleyball championship! Best assistant coach ever!


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