I did not buy into the idea that women could (and should) support one another until I was well into adulthood. Some of my earliest memories are of a life immersed in competitive sports. As soon as I was aware that there was a team to be on, I was on it! While my participation in sports taught me the value of teamwork and hustle, I had a distorted view of what it meant to be a competitor. A quick Google search of “competitor” says: someone who is trying to win or do better than all others especially in business or sports: someone who is competing. Synonyms include rival, contender, adversary, contestant, opponent, antagonist, challenger, combatant, and enemy. It would be fair to say that although karate is likely the one sport I didn’t participate in my internal motto was that of the Cobra Kai:

We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak.

Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy.

An enemy deserves no mercy.

It is no wonder that I do not have many friends from sport into my adult life. In addition to being a fierce competitor, I was also a sore loser – hard on myself, and hard on my teammates – ultimately hard to be around. There was no playing for fun, only playing to win and no other result was acceptable. I was building my self-esteem around my identity as a competitor and as a winner, but what happens to your sense of self if you don’t win? What happens if a time comes when you don’t even make the team? If your identity is built around winning and being a “winner”, do you now become a “loser”? Yikes.

Elementary school is a great time to try all the things, including sports. As our bodies grow and develop, so do our skills in a variety of areas. In his 2008 book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell wrote that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness." I’m not necessarily saying that this is true, but one thing is for certain, “Practice makes perfect”, and the more time you spend working on something, the better you will become at it. It was likely impossible for me to continue to excel at all of the sports into high school. I only ever focused on each sport as per the season and never out of season. You know who makes the team? The girl who loves the sport so much she practically sleeps with it. She owns her own ball and it becomes an extension of herself. She is shooting hoops before breakfast, dribbling the ball to the bus stop, and still practicing in the driveway until the sun goes down. I was really good at a lot of sports but didn’t dedicate myself to mastering any.

I think this is a natural process of growing up and evolving. The parts that are not important fall away because we are not dedicating the time necessary to excel at it. Was I sad that I didn’t make the volleyball team in grade nine? Absolutely. Was I miserable riding the bench on the basketball team, also in grade nine? For sure. Did I ever play these sports outside of season? Nope. Did I feel like a “loser”? Yup. But what I realize now is that I was already starting to diversify where I was building my sense of self and my self-esteem. In high school, you have to become responsible for your time management and there are other options for your extra-curricular time. This is an opportunity to narrow down where you are finding your bliss and what makes your heart sing. While I was failing at volleyball, basketball, and yes, track too, I was excelling with my grades, at curling, and in theatre. This is why there are different elements of esteem.

If you are failing at something you are deeply passionate about, you have to devote more time to it and ask your coaches for feedback regarding how to improve. But also be real real with yourself and try to assess how much you actually love it. Did I really love volleyball and basketball or was I just a blood-thirsty competitor? Since I didn’t practice outside of team practice time and because I am now so much older and wiser, I can honestly admit that I enjoyed the camaraderie of being on a team and the thrill of the win, but I also now know that I could have found these results in other activities. It is important to assess where you want to excel and how you like to spend your time. Then make sure they align so that you are spending your time doing things you actually love with people you actually like and building that ever important esteem!

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