During my freshman year of running Cross-Country at the University of Dallas, a subtle yet inciting rivalry between a runner from Texas Lutheran University, TLU, and I developed.
She won second in a race. I placed third. I won the next race; she followed on my heels. I always asked my coach if she was going to compete in the meets we attended. We analyzed her race strategy, her weaknesses and strengths. On the start line, I felt an undeniable tension as we waited for the gun to go off.
My experience of rivalry is not isolated to running. I grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., where the rivalry between the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Florida Gators was rampant. We did not even dare to put decals on our cars when my sister decided to attend UF. It would have been vandalized.
On one level, it appears that competition is inherently un-Christian. To succeed, your rival must fail. How often do we hope that the star player on the other team will become injured, for the play to be called, for the runner in front of you to fall? It seems that competition in sports is incompatible with Christian love, which wills the good of the other. In fact, it seems that competitive athletics requires you to wish for the other’s worst.
Although competition does have the potential to turn into nasty insults thrown across the field or court, I argue that competition does have a place within the Christian life, and it even has the power to enhance it.
Hate has no place in sports. But competition does not have to turn into hate. Rather, if love is willing the good of another, then competition is the very place where love can be found on the field, court, or track. By pushing each other to do our best through competition, we wish the improvement and success of the other. Competition is, in fact, the way that we can wish the best for our fellow athletes.
At the last meet we raced against TLU, the SCAC Conference Championships, I found myself struggling to keep pace in the last mile of the 6k. Suddenly, my TLU rival was beside me and accelerating at a pace I knew I couldn’t hold. Her hand went out — I did not know what she was doing in the midst of the intensity of the race. Then it struck me: she was giving me a high-five.
In the spirit of Christian love, let’s foster athletic competition. Let’s push each other to achieve great things. And let’s not forget to high-five our rival every once in a while.