RGS Guildford courtyard with students

Reflection: Competition

Competition is an integral part of life.  In the natural world, plants and animals compete for resources, and it is competition which gives a lion its strength and a gazelle its speed.  Darwin noted, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’”  Competition means only the most adaptable and resilient species can thrive.

In the human world, we see competition everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom, in politics and on the sports field.  It is what motivates us to strive for excellence in all situations, developing our skills and learning from our failures.  It is the prospect of competition which leads us to look forward to Saturday matches, and sign-up to house events.  The participation throughout the School in all types of House event shows how much we enjoy competition.  The desire to win encourages us to put maximum effort into the task at hand, and overcome the challenges we experience along the way, whether that is executing a try saving tackle, or flawlessly completing a difficult piece in House music.

Furthermore, the feeling of satisfaction and pride associated with a win is tied to our biology through the dopamine rush we experience after a success.  This leads us to want to replicate this feeling, creating a positive feedback loop, where greater efforts produce greater wins, and greater wins result in greater effort in the next challenge.  As the basketball player Kobe Bryant said, “Competition teaches you the value of hard work and dedication.”

Industries are also driven by competition, and the many recent technological advancements including smartphones, electric cars and gene therapy have all been driven to some extent, by the desire to outperform others in a highly competitive commercial world.

However, it is important to note that competition is not just about winning, it’s about growth.  It helps us learn from our failures and perform better the next time.  As inventor Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Competition also is closely linked to teamwork.  When we collaborate as a team or a House, working together for a common goal, we amplify our strengths, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.  This means we can achieve far more than we could alone, and can also enjoy the process of cooperating with friends.

So, what should you take away from this.  Firstly, competition can motivate us to try our hardest, and help us push beyond our perceived limits.  Secondly, competition builds enjoyment, especially when collaborating in a team.  Finally, don’t be put off competing for fear of failure. A s Elon Musk said, “If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

William O’Brien
Senior Prefect