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The sharp edge of competition

Don Rogers

I love winning, but losing is more interesting.Victory is a puzzle solved. Loss means pieces remain missing. Solve enough puzzles and you are a success. It’s the American way. But the real test is the hunt, the lessons to learn, the will to keep looking, the savvy to cope when luck has turned against you. It’s fascinating if often unpleasant. Mysteries are all the more intriguing for being unsolved.Not that getting slaughtered last week by the best teams in our rec basketball leagues was such a mystery. Our opponents were faster, bigger, more skilled and in better shape than us, not to mention more used to playing together. To be sure, this season is a trial after two years of playing on teams that didn’t lose a game in their lower division. We ran the table, winning titles. This year we’re getting run off the court, in two leagues. I am becoming intimately reacquainted with humility. Some who know me would say that’s not such a bad thing.Our culture cuts sharply on competition. One team aims to beat the other, companies fight for sales, countries sometimes take their competition to the military extreme, cultures clash. This might be a species thing, now that I think about it. Individuals, families, clans, tribes, states, nations. This is hard-wired in humanity.Capitalism made a philosophical virtue of competition, and democracy brought the concept of winning and losing to ideas through the great scoreboard we know as elections. It’s messy, can be cruel and requires the moderating influence of classic historical liberalism, which is not to be mistaken for a political party hamstrung by certain Massachussetts senators.But mankind’s best work and progress spring from systems that encourage competition. We reached the moon in response to a loss in the space race to those Russkies. Vail finally got over its malaise after other resorts scored some perceived victories and became more competitive. Our school district is shaking up the faculty with incentives for better performance. The Vail Daily became a better paper as a consequence of the Vail Trail going daily. The evidence is just about anywhere you care to look, high and low. Communism was doomed by its lack of incentive as a society for solving the puzzles necessary to keep up with capitalism. Dictatorships are ultimately doomed to fall to democracy; at least that’s the pattern emerging these past hundred or so years. Fossil fuels ultimately will be replaced by energy that proves more competitive in the marketplace. Competition has even driven the tide of giving to tsunami victims on the other side of the world. It’s a powerful force, this competition, for good and for ill.I think of my setbacks at work, my sense of losing the war with my piles of stuff, of other papers doing better work, other editors getting more done, other staffs dealing more efficiently with the load. That has a way of focusing my mind, fixing my determination to find ways to improve, no question. When I think I’m atop the hill, well, I’m not so concerned with climbing.I didn’t bother to look at the scoreboard Thursday night when our improbable 6-0 lead slipped to 6 to 13 and then 19 to 40 at halftime after the top team threw a full-court press on us. I know we held them under 100 – there’s some solace – and we scored over 50, yeehaw. OK, about 40 points worth of this puzzle to solve for the class of the league. So they’re not quite twice as good as us without our big fellas. Better than I figured. Relentless and unreasonable optimism is a big part of this test, if you’ve forgotten that the real purpose here is sweating out the stress of everyday life.We learned a few things about passing, breaking a press, setting up an offense, the need to get back on defense quickly … so many lessons. For the whuppings in the higher league, I think we’ll be better players than we would be rolling through last year’s lesser teams.So we’re talking it out, including about lynching the big fellas who haven’t been making it to the games lately. One guy brought diagrams of plays for me to copy and distribute. We’re giving each other lots of tips. We’re paying more attention to the fundamentals. We’re noticing the little plays that go well: the give-and-go that pans out, the quick cut down the lane, the nice jumper – too rare, all. And I’m so mad about it all that I’m beginning to play a lot harder. It feels good.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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