Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The power of competition

'...The pursuit of victory draws out one's deepest reserves...' 
 Basi L'Gani

I was at Prahran skate park observing a skater in his early 20's attempting the same trick (a pop shuvit over a hip) at least 30 times without success. So I decided to test how effective competition would be at bolstering his performance. I approached Pearce and asked him if he'd like to compete with me to see who could land this trick first. He was interested so we went ahead. The competition didn't last very long though, as he landed the trick perfectly in his first attempt!

In his highly insightful discussion about power, Dr Rollo May lists several types:
1. Power over another, obvious in slavery and manipulation;
2. Power for another, apparent in a mother's protectiveness of her child;
3. Power with another, visible in team work;
4. Power against another, evident in war and competitive sports;
5. Power from another; such as accepting another person's critique and developing oneself thereby.

The main distinction between power against and power from is that in the former one views the opponent as just that, an opponent. It's only incidental that the opponent causes the other party to increase in power. In the latter, in contrast, one deliberately uses an opponent to increase in power. It was this 5th type of power that I was helping Pearce use to improve his performance level.           

However, competitiveness is not always the best way to help others improve. According to the Yerkes- Dodson law of 'optimal arousal', an athlete is incapable of functioning optimally when either under-aroused or over-aroused. This explains why some people perform better during practice than during competition, for  competitiveness causes them to become over-aroused. It also explains why others perform better during competition than practice, for during practice they are under-aroused and competition boosts their arousal level.

Furthermore, research has shown that the optimal arousal level is lower for novel or complex tasks and higher for habitual or simple tasks. Thus, if a person is learning a new or complex trick it may not be a good idea to apply the pressure of competition. On the other hand, if one is failing to land more simple or well practiced tricks, competition may just help him pick up his game...        

No comments:

Post a Comment