The Practical Guide to Competition vs. Cooperation

Recently, my team held time trials on an OC 2. We had to paddle 200 meters as fast as possible while someone else steered the 2-man outrigger canoe. 200 meters sounds like a short distance, but when you are pulling someone else’s weight, it feels more like a 2k. (Read more about OC time trials in a previous post)

I stayed at the site after my own trial to cheer on my teammates and to catch up with them, as I’d been out of town for a while. While watching Jen, one of my teammates who was trialing, I was chatting with Dianne, another paddler on my team. I noticed that Jen looked incredibly powerful and I said, “Wow! She looks so strong!” Dianne replied excitedly, “Aren’t we lucky she’s on our team?” I was immediately struck by her reaction.

This perspective was certainly refreshing. There is no doubt about it, our sport is competitive. We compete with our own teammates for a seat on the race crew. We compete with other teams for a gold medal.We compete with paddlers across the country for a spot on the national team. All too often we lose sight of the fact that this sport is also about cooperation and collaboration.

One teammate helping another out of the boat

Photo: Ed Nguyen

Ideally, our goal should be to push ourselves individually while also encouraging our teammates to be their best, as it can only make our team more powerful in the long run. Congratulating our teammates on their personal successes while keeping a healthy level of competition is a good thing. As the bar gets raised with each paddler’s development, everyone on the team should aspire to keep up with the improvements. In the long run, the team will be stronger.

Celebrating the successes of fellow paddlers and working hard to bring everyone up to a competitive level is what will always be most beneficial to the team. Tweet it!

I once had a teammate who I love dearly, but who got upset when anyone beat her in a time trial. I remember her once proclaiming, “I never get a break!” after yet another paddler edged her out of the top spot. She wanted to be number one. This is an admirable goal, no doubt. With that goal in mind an individual will hopefully train harder and push themselves which can certainly have positive effects on the team.

However, the mindset of “me over we,” or not wanting others to be better is not necessarily productive to the team in the long run. Sure, it’s a nice ego boost to be top dog, but the reality is that the team can only be only as good as its collective whole. Extremely competitive individuals typically prefer be on a team where they barely make the cut because the team is so strong, rather than being on a team where they are by far the best and not being sufficiently challenged.

Outer Harbour Senior Women paddling to the start line

Outer Harbour Senior Women with the amazing Dianne Mowat (on the drum seat). Photo: Jeff Holubeshen

Dianne clearly recognized that having yet another strong woman on our team will only benefit us all in the long run. Her enthusiasm for Jen’s strength and talent was beautiful and quite honestly that is what I’d love to see from every teammate. Celebrating the successes of fellow paddlers and working hard to bring everyone up to a competitive level is what will always be most beneficial to the team.

So, while a competitive spirit is important in our sport, it is imperative to understand where competition has its place and where cooperation and camaraderie are most essential. Encourage your teammates and celebrate their accomplishments. But don’t just raise a glass to honor them, raise the bar to bring the team up another notch or two while you’re at it. Your team will only be stronger for it.

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2 Discussion to this post

  1. Kate Merchant says:

    Excellent article!

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