On Competition and Eustress

Batting practice before the prestigous 29th Catskill Wiffle Ball Tournament

Bases loaded, one out left in the game, down by three in the last inning of the semi-finals, I step up to the plate. I’ve been crushing the call all day. Still, my heart rate goes up, my palms are sweaty. I visualize making solid contact with the ball.

The pitch comes in, solid contact is made, and it goes right to the outfielder. Game over. My partner and I jog out and shake hands against our two opponents and wish them luck in the finals. After all, it’s only wiffle ball…it may be the 29th anniversary of the exclusive and prestigious Catskill Wiffle Ball tournament, but it is still just wiffle ball.

The competition is fierce, and the people play to win, but at the end of the day good sportsmanship is key….at least if you want to be invited back.

Since leaving high school, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I essentially stopped all forms of competition that had previously been common throughout my childhood. The first time I realized this was in 2015 as I signed up for the cross-fit open and was competing with other members of the gym. As we waited on the starting line behind our barbells I noticed my heart rate increased and I was getting a little nervous….just like I would if I was lining up for a track meet.

Since then I have competed on a weekly basis via sparring in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There are still days when I get a little nervous stepping on the mats, but for the most part the anxiety of competition has been inoculated.

 I have come to believe that low stakes competition, whether it is in the training room or playing pick-up sports, is an important part of the human experience. For one thing, it is humbling to be beaten while simultaneously teaching (well, should be teaching) good sportsmanship when you lose. Secondly, these low-stakes situations where you heart rate increases yet you perform anyway is essential training ground for facing down your true dragon in your personal or professional life. It gives you what the Greeks called Eustress. Eustress is the type of stress that is beneficial for the recipient and leaves them with a sense of fulfillment. It is my belief that with enough low-stakes eustress through informal competition, it is easier for one to face down the high-stakes situations in life with more confidence and resolve and, more importantly, be able to turn that into a eustress situation.

The former emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, consistently references wrestling in his Meditations:

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in that it stands ready for what comes and is not thrown down by the unforeseen.”

To the ancient world physical competition was consistent throughout their lives. It was a chance to strive, to win, to fail, to learn, to obtain eustress. Put another way: a place to change the things you can, accept the things you cannot change, and practice knowing the difference.

Competition is another way for you to be one step close to live a balanced life.

…Plus it is a ton of fun.

The Wood-Ridge and River Edge Connelly’s at CWB