L7 Friendly Competition

Tools For A New Political Economy

Friendly Competition?

What does “friendly competition” look like. . .?

Throughout my life, I have really enjoyed playing sports, and I believe we can find a helpful analogy regarding friendly competition as a natural and productive intersection of cooperation and competition in those experiences.

In my twenties in Seattle, WA, I loved to play Ultimate Frisbee on the weekends, on one of they many grassy stretches of park beside Greenlake in the northern section of the city. It was always the same core group of players, with new additions joining in over time, and we evolved a simple style of game to maximize our exercise, entertainment and joy of play: we called it “zero-to-zero.” Each week we would create two different teams, deliberately aiming to distribute the best players between them as they arrived at the field. This often meant that players who opposed each other one week would be on the same team the following week. We would then kick off our game. Much of the time, because of how we distributed players, the skill level was very close to equal, and the competition became extraordinarily intense. With closely matched teams, everyone “upped their game” to try to get the Frisbee into the end zone. Sometimes an individual “long bomb” and catch — or a more complicated and coordinated tight relay — attained an Olympiad level of skill; something truly spectacular. At which point both teams would erupt into cheers and hoots of praise - regardless of which team made the play. And after a hard won point, we would return to opposite ends of the field for a kick-off, and yell “zero-to-zero” as we began again - regardless of the actual score. These were some of the most athletic, intense and gloriously fun Ultimate Frisbee games I have ever participated in, with the level of play accelerated and perfected to an inspiring degree by what I can only describe as “friendly competition.” And because we all knew we were in it for fun — and the score would always be zero-to-zero — the more edgy and aggressive one-upmanship of traditional game play was replaced with real caring, camaraderie and compassion. For example, each team would also have its equal share of entry-level players, or players who just weren’t that athletic, and the more skilled and experienced players would always make a concerted effort
in almost every play to share the frisbee with those beginners. And why not? We were all there to have fun and share the joy and excitement of Ultimate Frisbee; to teach and grow together, regardless of skill level. And so we all improved together, and bonded, and trusted each other, and executed some kick-ass teamwork that is rare even among the best professional players.

Of course I have also played team sports that were more about testosterone, aggression, dominance and winning. Where keeping score was sacrosanct, and “beating” the opposing team was a matter of dutiful, gritty honor. And I think that flavor of competition has permeated many professional and amateur sports to their detriment. It is unnecessary and often counterproductive, leading to many more injuries, ego trips and antagonistic feelings both between teams and within teams.

When applying this principle to competition between services providers, or producers of products, or political parties, or community leaders, or non-profit institutions, or within educational models. . .I think we can immediately see the benefit of shifting away from antagonism, aggression and “us vs. them” egotism to a more egalitarian and inclusive model of cooperative competition. Competition can indeed be healthy. . .
if it is a healthy form of competition.

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