This morning during my 30-minute easy-paced run, I came upon a mom placing her child on a school bus. As I passed the bus I looked up to see elementary faces staring back at me, the slowish runner in the bright pink cap and royal blue running top.
It made me smile for some reason.
My reading lately has included the history of women's collegiate athletics and specifically the battle between the AIAW and the NCAA.
In one way, the battle for control was philosophical. The AIAW, which governed women's championships, favored participation over recruiting and scholarships. It valued egalitarian play (there were no divisions among schools -- all sizes competed at the same level) and providing opportunity with minimal pressures on finances or winning which often led (and still lead) to things like point shaving and performance enchancing drugs.
The NCAA was built around providing quality championships for the male teams of its member schools. It built power around prestige and money and placed the emphasis on competition and winning.
One was play for play's sake. The other was play to win.
For a variety of reasons, the NCAA ended up governing women's collegiate sports and the AIAW and its model of participation faded into obscurity.
But on my run this morning I wondered at what price?
Did society really have to choose between competition and participation? Did it have to be an either-or scenario?
Highly competitive athletics for college men and women have many benefits. But have we created such an emphasis on winning, whether it be a game or a college scholarship, that we've forgotten about the less gifted athletes? What about the kids on that school bus who may never have the skill set to play Division I basketball, but enjoy a good, competitive game anyway?
Would our society be healthier if we introduced kids to non-traditional sports at a younger age?
There's a balance between participation and competition even within my own training and it often comes in how I frame the competition. If I'm competing against myself, trying to get better, I end up with better results than if I'm concerned about how I fare in comparision with someone else. Sure, the goal of a race is to win, but if you only defining winning as finishing first, you miss a lot of nuances that make life so interesting and rewarding.