Life Is a Contact Sport

But what do I mean by that?

All of us know the difference between a contact sport and a non-contact sport. Golf is a non-contact sport, as is tennis, bowling, archery, and swimming. In these sports and others like them, the participants perform certain actions that require great skill, and their success is compared with the success of the other competitors by means of a point system that determines the winner.

Contact sports, however, are sports like football, soccer, baseball, hockey, and yes, basketball. In these sports, the participants are usually chasing a single ball or puck, or they are trying to put the ball or the puck in a goal or over a line that their opponents are vigorously defending. Consequently, bodies collide, injuries occur, and there is always a trainer on the sidelines waiting to bandage the resulting wounds.

This is why I say that life is a contact sport. To be successful, a person must chase a prize that other people are chasing, too. And since there are multiple participants in this chase, yet only one prize, collisions are unavoidable and wounds are predictable. People will get severely injured in the “game” of life.

But there is a big difference between contact and conflict. While contact is a necessary and unavoidable reality of life, conflict is attitudinal. We can compete in school, in business, in romance, and in every other aspect of life without trying to hurt the people with whom we compete and without harboring resentment toward them. We must learn to compete vigorously, but learn to avoid the conflicts that often flow from a wounded ego. There is no trophy in life that is worth the sacrifice of your character.

Potential wounding also results from within. Some people give up on their dreams because they become discouraged following a setback. But discouragement is a self-inflicted wound, because discouragement is the natural consequence of unrealistic expectations. That’s right! If you are discouraged, you’re discouraged because you expected something from life that life never promised to give you.

When we are children, we grow up on a constant diet of fairytales. We watch cartoons where the characters bounce off the ground after falling. We watch movies where the lead character always wins. Our parents always tell us that we are smart, handsome, beautiful, and special. And in the beginning, at least, we don’t even get grades on our homework. We just get checkmarks, indicating that we have completed the task.

But real life isn’t so kind. After we grow up, life can get downright tough. It is unfair, it is problematic, and it is competitive. The older we get, the less often somebody will bandage our little “boo-boo” for us and the more our experiences will teach us that we have to learn to navigate the difficult passages of life on our own. Unfortunately, those dangerous passages can often leave us shipwrecked on the rocks.

In life, as in sports, the greatest locker room celebrations are reserved for those teams that have faced the stiffest competition and have managed to prevail. They are reserved for those individuals who have endured the greatest criticism yet have risen to the top. Nobody wants to win the NBA Finals by having the opposing team forfeit. Victory at no cost is no victory at all, and such shallow triumphs can never settle the question of who is worthy to be called “champion.”

For a victory to be a real victory, the competitors must clash on every imaginable front. The competitors must outplay one another on the field, outthink one another in the locker room, and outmaneuver one another in the pregame hype. A championship team must be prepared to endure hardships and challenges on every level. And when they are, the victory will be all the sweeter and the title will be much more meaningful.

Life is tough. In fact, life is cruel sometimes, and many of the things you have hoped for may never materialize in your life. But the silver lining in this dark cloud of reality is that, if you truly possess a compulsion to win, you will eventually prevail in your pursuits. And if you do possess that kind of motivation, your rewards will be sweeter when you finally taste them and more satisfying because of the challenges you endured.

Athletic competition on the professional level requires a lot of talent and a lot of hard work. Nobody succeeds as a professional athlete unless that person possesses an enormous amount of skill and is willing to pay the price to climb to the top of his sport. And that is why the top athletes command such exorbitant salaries.

Success never comes easy. These athletes have to outperform a lot of other people who are also good at their crafts, and they have to overcome their own tendencies to settle for mediocrity in their respective sports.

If you want to get the big paycheck and the notoriety and respect that come with it, you are going to have to pay the piper. You also will be required to fight for the thing you want to attain. You will have to fight yourself, you will have to fight the circumstances around you, and in a competitive kind of way you will have to fight other people if you want to claim the prize. Competition is the name of the game.

Don’t be afraid to fight, therefore, for the goal you want to achieve. This doesn’t mean you have to hate the people with whom you contend or that you have to hurt them or delight in their second-place finish. This means that you must simply learn to prevail in the contact that will take place as both of you do your best.

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