Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mediocrity

I've been involved in sports for as long as I can remember. I remember walking with my brother to the Marion College Luckey Gym from Center School when I was in kindergarten and first grade. My brother and I would play tennis against each other during tennis season and shoot baskets during basketball season while my dad coached. We played miniature golf at Greens Golfland (now Rivers Edge) while the Marion College golf team practiced. We hung out at the softball diamond in the summer and at Lincoln School gym in the winter during Dad's church league days. Sports were almost always on the t.v. at our house - especially during major tournaments and big games. In gym class, during the days where captains were chosen and the non athletic kids felt left out because they were picked last (do they still do it that way?) I was usually the first girl picked (if boys were captains because if girls were captains they chose their best friend first) and often times I was picked before a lot of the boys. Sports seemed to come natural to me - I'm not sure if it was because of the environment I was raised in or just a natural tendency. Therefore, even today when I am involved in any kind of athletic endeavor (sports I know how to play at least) my tendency is to feel like I should win. And even if the competition appears to be superior, I still feel like I have a chance to win if they perform poorly and I perform well. Of course I don't always win - usually because I am not as good as the competition - yet it still eats at me when I lose. And I know the feeling that I should be able to win is unrealistic and maybe even a little bit of overconfidence. The events of this past weekend provided me a lot of insight on my attitudes towards competition in sports and also a great deal of humility and reality.

After 9 years of employment with Marion Community Schools, I finally had the opportunity to participate in Corporate Challenge this year. Corporate Challenge is an annual event sponsored by the Grant County YMCA, and this was Marion Community School's first year to participate. Grant County corporations compete against each other in various sporting events over two weekends - i.e. tug of war, golf, bowling, softball, basketball hot shot. There are two divisions - one for larger corporations (MCS, IWU, Marion General Hospital for example) and one for smaller businesses. I didn't even know our corporation was fielding a team until the human resource director (Dr. Howe) who was heading it up called me to play on the softball team. During that conversation, I informed her that I knew how to play tennis and would be interested in playing mixed doubles with my brother (who is a teacher in the corporation.) So at that point I was a part of the softball and tennis competition. My entry into a third competition was the result of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I had gone to our administration building to pick up my t-shirt, and I ran into Dr. Howe. "You don't happen to be a runner, do you?" she asked. I told her that no, I am not a runner, but I am in training for a triathlon so I have been running some. Sometimes I just need to keep my mouth shut. She said she needed a female to run the 5K at 7:30 Saturday morning. Of course, I couldn't say no, so I was now a part of three competitions. Let me break down the events and results for you:

THE 5K - it's 3.1 miles for those of you out there like me who don't know how to convert from the metric system. I was pretty nervous about this race for a couple of reasons - I had never run in a race like this before, and I wasn't sure how good the competition was going to be. My fear was that my competitive edge was going to kick in, and that coupled with my inexperience in running would cause me to run at too fast a pace for me and then burn out. On the drive over to the race, conflicting thoughts were running through my head. One thought was that there aren't a lot of females in the county who could even run an entire 3.1 miles. I have been training; I know I can finish the race - I just might finish pretty high. Then the other thoughts kicked in - Deb, you are not a runner. You run a 10 minute mile. Your mom can probably speed walk close to that pace. There will be girls running in this race who actually run. You are going to try to keep up with them and then have to walk the last mile. I pulled in the parking lot, walked across the street to the sign in place, and began scoping out the competition. This may be stereotyping, but from looks alone, the majority of the female competition didn't look too athletic. I was beginning to feel pretty good about myself. Then I ran into Scott Turcott, coach of the IWU team. I asked him who were the girls running for IWU, and when he said "Kristen Sommers" (past IWU cross country runner,) my confidence suddenly left me and reality set in. No time to fret, it was time to load up on the bus to the start of the race. After getting off the bus, we had to walk a little ways to the start. Of course I made sure I was right at the start line - why not get any advantage I can? Then the official made an announcement - "If you are going to run this race in less than 20 minutes, please come to the front of the crowd." Well, of course I immediately stepped back; I was hoping to come in under 30 minutes. Then he said "If you are going to run this race in 25 minutes or less, step forward." Again, I stepped back. Wow, there were a lot of girls in front of me now. My confidence level is at O - my goal is now to finish ahead of Dr. Howe (who was also running the race.) On your mark, get set, go - and we were off. I started at a little faster pace than I would have liked, but it was manageable. After 5 minutes or so, we had all spread out, and I was eyeing the competition around me. I had my eyes fixed on three girls - all wearing red. Two were friends running together, and one of them did not look athletic at all. "Surely I can beat her," I thought. The third girl had passed me after about 3 minutes and was staying just ahead of me. 10 minutes more pass - we are over half way done. Then I am hearing some serious breathing right behind me, and it's kind of messing up my own breathing pattern. Pretty soon the person is beside me - it's our superintendent! He says a pleasant comment, and I, in my delirious state, reply, "I wondered who was huffing and puffing behind me!" Let's hope my superintendent has a sense of humor - it's Tuesday today and I still have my job. 5 minutes later and one of the girls ahead is walking...now she's running. I'm going to get her, she's wearing down. Five more minutes pass and I am passing the girl who had passed me at the beginning. One more minute later and I pass non athletic girl. I never could catch the third girl, though, and I crossed the finish line somewhere around 28 or 29 minutes. There was a big clock at the finish line, but I was so delirious and exhausted that I didn't notice it right away. At this point, I should have been feeling great - I ran the race averaging about a 9 1/2 minute mile which is much faster than I usually run. However, the dominating feeling other than exhaustion was frustration that several women, including women who were much older than me and less "athletic looking" than me, had beaten me.

Softball - This was my first experience playing co-ed softball. There are quite a few differences between playing church league softball and co-ed softball - one of the obvious was that our co-ed pitcher said he had a hangover, and I've never heard Sue say that before. My opinion is that your co-ed team is only as good as your girls. You have to have equal numbers of males and females, and they alternate when batting. So even if you have decent guys, if your girls can't get on base, you aren't going to score many runs. Our guys were decent, and 4 of our 5 girls were decent. We won our first two games and then faced IWU's #1 team. This was not an enjoyable game for me for lots of reasons. #1. I had run the 5K earlier that morning and this was my second softball game of the day - I was pooped. #2. I am friends with several people on the IWU team and I didn't know anyone on my own team. But I was still 51% for our team, 49% for IWU. #3. It was hard playing against 3 of my church league teammates. #4. We lost 1-0 in a well-played defensive game except for a routine fly ball that our right fielder dropped that scored IWU's only run. I was 0-2 and did not help the cause at all. This softball experience was really humbling for me because I wasn't even close to being regarded as a respectible softball player - I was the 4th best girl on the team, or better put, the third worst . Actually during all three games I played, I only fielded one ball, and it was a grounder. I only had 1 hit. I never got to prove to my teammates that I actually knew how to play softball - I wasn't some scrub who just wanted to play for social reasons. It was a humbling experience to not be the go-to person, the one everyone was counting on. Instead I was the one who was almost assumed to be an automatic out.

3. Tennis - Ah, a time to redeem myself. Back in my comfort zone. My brother played some awesome tennis, and I played pretty good, and we were able to win the tennis competition. This was on Sunday, the last of the competitions, and it was good to feel like a winner again.

So my thoughts regarding the Corporate Challenge Weekend. Did I enjoy the 5K run and softball as much as the tennis even though I didn't win the first two events? No. Duh.

Did I feel like a "winner" in the 5K because I had bettered my time and in softball because we at least won 2 games? No.

Was it a waste of time to participate in the first two events because I didn't really contribute? I don't know. It was probably good experience for me to run the 5K with the triathlon coming up, and church league softball on Monday night (see Kelley Grate link) did seem a lot more slow paced and easier compared to co-ed.

Why did I have such a hard time accepting the results of the 5K and softball, aside from my competitive nature and desire to win? Mediocrity. That's what it is. I am a mediocre runner and softball player. Yes, a lot of people would not be able to run 3 miles, and I can play softball better than some. But there are a whole lot of other people who can do better than me in both sports. Would I have been bothered if someone had beaten me at archery? No, because I am terrible at archery (at least I was in high school gym.) Ice skating? Can't even stand up in the skates. Soccer? I don't even like watching it let alone playing it. So it comes down to this. My first preference is to win at any sport I am playing, regardless if I am dominant, mediocre, or lousy. But if I must lose, I would rather be lousy than mediocre. Because if I am lousy, I have an excuse - I am lousy. To be mediocre is the worst - good enough to expect to win, and not good enough to actually win.

Triathlon Training Update - Due to the adjustment of starting school last week and corporate challenge, my training took a big hit. I didn't completely take a break - I still biked and ran on Saturday (3.1 miles to be exact.) But I didn't swim at all last week. Shelli and I decided to not train on Monday due to the softball tournament (see Kelley Grate link, but just in case you don't, WE WON...21-2!!!) So I was back at it tonight, biking 7.25 miles and running 2 miles. The 5K must have given me some more confidence because I ran the 2 miles in just over 18 minutes - so I was pretty excited about that. I know taking the time to train is going to be a struggle over the next couple of weeks because when evening comes, I just want to stay in and see my family. But it will all be over in a few weeks, and the goal is definitely in sight!

6 Comments:

Blogger jaena said...

Deb,

As usual, I can relate to this post. It is interesting that being mediocre at something can either inspire a person to get better at it, or it can make a person give up and decide not to even try to compete.

I think it was the fear of not being able to be "the best" at Accounting that made me not try and end up not doing well (I think my father was generous and gave me a D+).

That's part of why I don't play even church league softball too. I know how to play but cannot make my skill level catch up with my knowledge.

It's too bad that there are things I would rather not do at all than to not be the best at them. I have many more thoughts on this, but we will have to talk in person so I don't take up your entire comment space.

August 22, 2006 11:59 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I too feel that there are things I just don't do because I am only mediocre at them and don't want to chance it.

Maybe that is my problem with house work! he he

August 23, 2006 10:21 AM  
Blogger Kelley said...

Insightful as always! I agree that I too don't want to participate if I'm not going to be any good at it. That's why I manage our softball team instead of playing on it. :)

August 23, 2006 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deb,
As usual, your writing is full of tone--feelings, emotions, voice! Definitely you! You get your competitive spirit so naturally--dad's the same as you and Doug. However, the only sports he won't try are the water sports because he can't swim. Also, any sport that involves height he won't try (obviously that doesn't involve height in basketball :). I can't think of any sport you wouldn't try because of an inability or fear. At least that's something to be thankful for--you did not inherit or learn the inability or the phobia. Did you beat Dr. Howe? That was my LOL moment!
Mom

August 23, 2006 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The triathalon training has definitely become more challanging-it's requiring more time and there is less time to give. We can do it, only three weeks to go. There are days the only reason I do my workout is because I know you're doing yours and it wouldn't be fair for me to slack off. Have a great day!
Shelli

August 23, 2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

There have been so many times I have thought to myself that one of the words that probably best describes me is mediocracy. I hate it but feel so stuck there sometimes. I look at people who are competative and driven and envy them. When I tell you and Shelli how impressed I am that you are doing this triathalon I am being very serious!! I am so impressed and in awe of people who set huge goals and just go for it.

August 23, 2006 5:12 PM  

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