Monday, October 11, 2010
I'm as competitive as the next person. I like to win at word games and trivia, and I always want my kids and grandkids to win at their games. I also found out that I'm competitive with my GPS. On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, my TomTom suggested that I take a route I didn't think was wise. Once I veered from the directed course, the machine became insistent, recalibrating my route dozens of times and urging me in a pleasant tone, "in 500 feet turn right and stay right. Turn right and stay right. Turn…" as I breezed past the exits one after another. The machine remained calm in the face of my defiance, finding alternate routes that I swear went through several backyards and across a baseball field to get me back on track. I fully expected it to finally say, "Okay, do what you want. It's your funeral." But it never did. I, on the other hand, kept yelling at it, calling it names and declaring my own superior knowledge of the route. I think, in retrospect, the GPS was right because I did get caught in a big back up, but you never heard me admit that to the machine. On the way home I docilely followed all instructions without question.
This trip was to go down to see my grandsons play in their football games. The conflict with my GPS made me realize that competitiveness is directly related to the amount of knowledge or skill you feel you possess in a particular situation. I get very competitive when I play word games or trivia because I expect to do well. I am appropriately intense at my sons' soccer games because after a quarter century of watching soccer, I think I understand the game enough to have an opinion about the way a game unfolds. But I know very little about football. I could know more. I've watched it enough over the years. Yet I choose to remain blissfully ignorant because, in truth, I don't care to be an expert. I know four things about football: How to score a game including that a safety is worth two points, that you have four downs to go ten yards, that there is a defensive squad and an offensive squad, and that no play last longer than one minute from whistle to whistle with most plays lasting less than 15 seconds. Oh, I also know what the quarterback is, but I can't tell you a nose tackle from a linebacker or a running back from a tight end. I watch football games relatively benignly, although I can get excited about my beloved Oregon Ducks winning.
So in Columbus I found myself enthusiastically positive the entire time on the sidelines. I had no idea what was the right positioning for my grandson or the proper movement. I just yelled "Go Keaton, go" or "Well done maroon" because they were the maroon team. Around me people expressed disappointment at various plays yelling things like "you should have gone inside" or "get off your line faster," but all I saw was my grandson running, taking people down and getting to the person with the ball. I thought he was brilliant. I discovered that being ignorant about what is good, bad, or indifferent about the game let me just be happy about anything the boys did. At one point, after the other team scored, Keaton's coach came down the sidelines yelling, "that's cheap football" with a very scary intensity that made me want to back away slowly like I would from a bear in the wild. Only competitiveness could make him that keyed up.
I will have to get smarter about football because I will be attending dozens of games that matter to my grandsons. But I'm also a bit reluctant because I know once I understand enough of the nuances of the game it will change how I react. It will allow me to be critical, which means I'll have to fight that urge. Right now I can just blissfully and ignorantly say, "good play" to anything the boys do because I'm just proud that they're playing. I can be unconditional in my praise. I know that my competitiveness makes me somewhat intolerant of fans on the sidelines of soccer games who say things about how the game is being played that I considered ill-informed. But at least they can cheer on their sons and daughters without criticizing, being disappointed in their play, or coaching. Their kids can feel their pride unreservedly. It's not a bad trade-off for everyone concerned.
While I would never trade away my knowledge of soccer, it is an intriguing conundrum for us parents. We need to understand the game in order to talk intelligently with our kids about this sport they love. We need to understand the game to show that we respect the sport they play. And we need to understand the game because we naturally want to understand what we have invested so much time, money, and emotion into. But with every bit of knowledge we acquire, there's those instances when we will see mistakes, bad ideas, and questionable coaching, and we will feel the need to comment. Yelling at what I perceive as stupidity on the part of my GPS comes from my own knowledge of the route and my own competitive arrogance that I know better than some piece of electronics. So it's no wonder that we end up yelling at a game where we know there are people who can hear us and alter their behavior based on our "suggestions." But I can tell you that my trip home from Columbus was so much happier and smoother than my trip down when I just let my GPS do its job. If I could just let my kids, the refs, the coaches, and the opposing team do their jobs during a game I might have less stomach acid and more smiles. It's just that sometimes I'm convinced I know better and that's a competitive urge that's hard to resist.