We all get told that capitalism is dog eat dog. But competition takes teamwork, and kids can learn a lot about economics from sports. So can adults.
What if we actually applied what we learned on the soccer field about rules, cheaters, sportsmanship, and working together?
- Without rules, there’s no game. Rules may be frustrating, but they exist for a purpose. They keep the game safe and fair and interesting.
- People will play to the rules, even if that gets ugly. As much as it sucks, there will always be people who push the limits.
- Without a ref, some people cheat. Somebody needs to have a whistle and kick habitual cheaters to the sidelines. See Number 1.
- People can change the rules to make the game safer or better. When pediatricians learned that heading the ball can cause brain damage, Canadian leagues for kids took heading out of the game.
- You can choose not to do something mean or stupid even if it’s allowed.
- Hogs are no fun.
- There’s no such thing as a one-man point. People get to be stars only because other people are playing their positions and doing their jobs.
- Pull your weight. Not everybody has the same position or abilities, but every position matters, and slackers take down the whole team.
- Every point is a combination of work, skill and plain old luck. Even when you play your best, the ball sometimes takes an odd bump. Sometimes you just get outplayed. And sometimes you get lucky. Don’t take more credit or blame than you deserve.
- Persistence pays off. Nobody wins who can’t pick themselves back up after losing.
- Your coaches actually know something. If you want to be a valuable player, listen and learn. Process mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them.
- Play hard, and play to win, but it’s not worth hurting someone in the process.
- When someone’s down, help them up. A bit of kindness goes a long way.
- Be careful how you treat the other team—you may have the same people on your side down the road. Sportsmanship matters.
- Winning isn’t everything. Yeah, winning is great, but ultimately the point is to have fun and spread happiness, and maybe—along the way—to learn a little something about life.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
Hogs are no fun. Isn’t that the truth.
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My daughter started high school around the time that group projects became popular. She is an incredibly dedicated student who would always do what it took to get an A. Needless to say, she despised group projects because the other students just saw her as a means to an end.
My kids did competitive swimming, I was always amazed at the parents who were mad when stroke rules were enforced “because they’re little.”
Rules help us live in community. Without them we flounder.
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I played soccer growing up. I had talent, but no particular motivation. I was neither for or against being on a team. I simply didn’t care whether my team won or not. I did like playing just for the fun of it. I took it seriously in my own way and could be tenacious in whatever position I was in, usually defense.
I’m not sure what I learned from it. Here are the only two clear lessons that might be applicable to life. I learned how to take a ball kicked into my face or gut. And I learned how to fall, if not gracefully, at least without getting hurt. Take a beating and get back up. Shake it off, as they say. All in all, I basically learned that I have a high pain threshold.
I’m not sure what any of that says about economics.
:) That sounds like some kids I know.
Here is the proudest moment of my soccer career. It was when I was playing in elementary school.
The other team had a secret weapon. They would drop the ball back to a large girl who wasn’t fast but her talent was kicking the ball all the way down to the other side of the field. All the players on my team would then chase the ball, even running back down the field before the ball was kicked. It was the same thing over and over.
I was maybe playing halfback or something. After observing this a few times, I had the genius idea to simply run right at her and take a body blow. I stopped the ball and that was that. I just kept doing that, taking it for the team. It was a simple but effective plan. I guess I was the only kid willing to run straight at a powerful kick. I like simple solutions.
I always was proud of my ability to take pain as a child. Plus, I was a fast runner, which helped. Take pain and run around quickly, two important skills in soccer. I can’t say these skills have necessarily gotten me far in life. I still can take pain and still like to run, even if not quite as fast as I once was. But I haven’t yet found an economic benefit to either of these.
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Great story. I would guess that your persistence has paid off in other ways.
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I am kind of obsessively tenacious in how I like to read and research topics. It’s helpful for my blog writing. It doesn’t earn me any money, at least not so far. But I enjoy it.
Loved your comparison of sports and economics. As usual your topics are incredibly timely. The subject of free trade agreements has come up often in this election year and those of us who advocate for fair trade rather than free trade completely understand your point. Whenever I have argued for fair trade I have used this sports analogy. It would not be fair if one football team could only field 8 players against another team that had 11. And it wouldn’t be fair if one team only had to go 5 yards for a first down while the other has to go 10. You could apply similar examples to any sport to make the point. Yet in the realm of economics it is this type of “tilted” playing field that is created by NAFTA, Most Favored Nation status for China, TPP, etc.. By allowing corporations to manufacture products in nations that maintain low wages, ignore worker safety, and practice poor environmental standards the economic playing field is tilted against American workers. True competition requires rules and requires them to be enforced evenly. In any arena of competition where this is true, be it football or trade, the intangibles then dictate the outcome. Intangibles that we as a society honor like hard work, ingenuity and creativeness. When we are allowed to compete on that basis Americans have a proven winning record.
I’d like to make a couple of points here.
First, far more goods are shipped from Asia to the US than the US ships to Asia. Shipping companies are not subsidized by either government, and need to make a profit, to stay in business. Therefore, Asian manufacturers, for all practical purposes, must “pay the freight” both ways. (Goods going from the US to Asia, can, of course, be shipped a bargain basement prices!) IMO, this casts doubt on whether it’s significantly less expensive to manufacture goods in Asia. Accordingly, I believe that the primary reason that US companies ship jobs overseas is to reduce the bargaining power of US workers, rather than to save money.
Second, Economists assume that a policy is good if it provides a net benefit to society (gains minus losses). Unfortunately, these gains are not distributed evenly, and a substantial number of Americans incur losses as a result of free trade. IMO, most of the gains from trade accrue to upper income groups, and most of the losses fall on individuals at the other end of the economic ladder. Economists have a solution to this problem, i.e., that the “winners” compensate the “losers”, but when did that ever happen? :)
The trouble is business people don’t like rules in economics because many of them want to “hog” all the money plus they have this attitude that if it wasn’t for them, the team couldn’t function without them.
Ah, if only mortgage brokers and Wall Street had followed the rules back in 2008. Many millions would have been spared the miserty
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It looks like I’m going to be the lone voice of dissent here. (Oh well, it wouldn’t be the first time. :))
From the replies, it appears as though most white males share your view. Even though women are, on average, paid 21% less than men for the same work, it appears that most white females also share your view. However, I seriously doubt if this would be the case for those who are nonwhite and/or non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgendered. It’s certainly true that the proportion of successful people in these groups has increased dramatically over, say, the last 50 years; however, they still are the exception, not the rule.
I assumed you mean “ball hogs are no fun” because I sure do like bacon, and pulled pork, and pork tenderloin, and …
Your article was picked up by AlterNet, so I just subscribed to your site–glad I found it.
Having recently shut down a small manufacturing business and retired, I have some time on my hands to explore things like the value of competition, or its role in our modern economy. To steal a cliché, it would be good to try competition some time. What we have instead is monopoly capitalism.
The organizations that I worked for did well when focused mainly on understanding and addressing customer needs. Training as a competitor did not help with product development or customer satisfaction, but did lead to false advertising and calumny. By us, and against us.
Except for its value as exercise, athletic competition did not do much for me in preparation for life. I started in major sports for our high school, but only did intramural and pick-up games in college, which I enjoyed far more. If someone cheated in pick-up games, got rough, or played the bully, they weren’t allowed to play.
Despite the conventional wisdom that competition is great training, I think it is another con that distracts us from becoming fully human. It seems to be of little positive value in preparation for the business world.
In the hopes of doing a better search, can you recommend sites or references that deal critically with the history of athletic competition and its value?
Hi Joe –
Unfortunately I don’t know that history; this article was off center for the topics I usually write about. My own sense is that people vastly underestimate the value of cooperation relative to competition in promoting wellbeing, and that is much of what I was trying to emphasize in the article. All the best to you in your inquiry.
I have seen more of the negative aspects of competition whether in sports or outside of sports and you are right Mr. Reedholm, it does distracts us from being more fully human because everyone is trying to move up the social/economic ladder while leaving “dead” bodies behind despite the fact that many people are good religious people who attend church on Sunday, but would not hesitate to stab you on Monday. Remember the song Skip a Rope back in the 1960s. That song is still relevant today.