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Worldwide Ace » Giving Your All

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Giving Your All

2 May, 2008 (15:35) | Social Commentary

Last week, as I played ScrabbleTM against a far superior opponent, she apologized to me. “I’m sorry I didn’t play down to your level,” she said. Needless to say, I was stunned. It didn’t bother me that I was getting trounced nor that I was obviously outmatched. What bothered me was that in previous games, she might not have given her all.

There are very few rules in my life that I treat as absolute, but one of those is always play your best. I can’t imagine not trying my hardest. I can’t imagine not pushing myself to be better and play harder. I certainly can’t imagine not trying to lift up and help others around me attain new goals they couldn’t without me around.

Playing for Yourself

Playing my hardest is a way to push myself to new levels. It’s a way to try and improve, and I can’t think of anything I do that I can’t improve at. The world is a competitive place. People compete in school, for jobs, for romance, and myriad other things. Therefore, if I want to be successful, I need to do the best I can.

You’ll often hear a coach tell players to practice how they play. In every sport I’ve played, practicing lazy tactics results in those lazy tactics becoming normalcy on the field when it counts. If I practice taking that shot at half speed, I won’t be as good at doing it at full speed when I get on the court. If I try awesome looking spin moves that fail 90% of the time, I’ll never get good at the mundane looking spin moves that get me closer to the net. If I don’t give my all every time out, I’m setting myself up for failure.

The expression, “whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” is, excluding loss of limb or lobotomy, true. If I go out there and push my body to the limits, my muscles will grow bigger, faster, stronger. If I marathon crossword puzzles even when my mind is mush after a day at work, I will learn words and definitions better. As long as I can, I will push myself to the limits of my ability in order to get better. It may be painful, but if I truly want to succeed, I’m willing to make the sacrifice.

Playing for Others

Playing my hardest isn’t just something I do for myself. It goes beyond that, and towards the nature of sport, the essence of competition, and the root of respect.

When I’m playing a game with teammates, be it a sport or a board game, or simply a joint project, giving less than my best is letting them down. They should all be out there trying their hardest, and I should be trying match that intensity. This is not just my win, but a win for all of us, and we should want it that much more. If I don’t play my hardest and we lose because of me, I don’t want that guilt.

Playing with teammates who are better than me can also raise me to another level. And if we’re all playing hard and all playing hard for each other, it really makes it a team. The best way to improve is to learn from others. It saves me the trouble of making mistakes myself, though I often do anyway. It’s faster than fumbling around trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and it offers perspective I might not have. And if teammates are will to take the time to help me, the least I can do is show them I’m taking these lessons to heart and really trying.

Teammates aren’t the only players on the field who deserve my best. My opponent does as well. If I mail it in, what’s their victory worth? I’d much rather lose and give it my all, giving my opponent the best game I can, than let them walk over me and waste their time. If I don’t give it my all, I’m disrespecting my opponent and I’m disrespecting the game.

Learning to Lose

There are plenty of ways to acknowledge defeat without giving up. During a blowout lacrosse game in high school, I wandered over to the best offensive player on our opponents and told him that this game was theirs and how much I appreciated getting a chance to learn from his skill. They still won handily, but for the two of us, the game suddenly changed from an ugly blowout to a bunch of kids having fun. After the game, we traded numbers and ended up practicing together over the next few months, turning me into a much better goalie. In the end, we may have lost the game, but what I gained from acknowledging our skill difference was a mentor and a friend.

Playing my best, even when losing, is an exercise in sportsmanship and friendship. It helps me know if I’m playing to win or playing because I love the game. If I don’t enjoy the game, I shouldn’t be playing at all. Learning how to lose gracefully is a huge part of learning what I truly enjoy and what I simply want to win at.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. If I’m playing a game against a four year old, I’m probably going to win. I have more experience and I’m older and wiser. But simply because I win doesn’t mean I have to trounce him, nor does it mean that I can’t play my hardest to keep the game close. Instead, the key for me is learning to teach.

Teaching a game or sport is a difficult task. If I’m coaching on a non-NCAA or professional level, I’m probably better than my players. This can be aggravating, since I see what should be done and they can’t quite execute. It’s an exercise in patience and empathy. If I can explain the techniques and strategies so that they understand, it’s a triumph for both of us.

When I play against someone who’s new to the game, I’m no longer playing the game. The goal isn’t to win, it’s to teach strategy and challenge them to match my skill. I may win 99 out of our first 100 games, but throughout, I will be supportive and clear in my explanations and suggestions. I will try to cultivate in them the same love of the game that I have. And when they finally win, they’ll have a sense of accomplishment since they earned their victory rather than having it given to them.


The first time I beat my mother at ScrabbleTM, I was proud. I was a sophomore in high school and after years of floundering beneath her impressive two-hundred plus point scores, I had finally passed her. If beating her had been my goal, I would’ve been beaming, but I was still a good 50-60 points behind my dad. My sense of accomplishment for beating my mom was tempered with a desire to match my dad. I wouldn’t succeed until my Freshman year of college, and even then, my victories were rare and sporadic, but rather than be victories in name only, I knew I had earned it. And that made all the difference.

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  • Van

    One thing I usually do when playing is encourage my opponent to do their best. When playing pool, I’ll point out a shot that they might not have seen. In both, I am rather particular about not taking cheap safeties – when I choose among my good offensive options, defense is a secondary consideration.

    I often am more interested in either elegant play (if I can score 30 by playing a 1-value tile, instead of scoring 40 by playing three letters, I’ll probably do the former), or pushing myself (I’ve gotten quite good at combos and jump shots in pool, for instance) than actually winning. Playing well is the motivator – but in the long run, I wind up being pretty good. The exception to playing to play is if I’m playing someone who has shown themselves to be a jerk – then I go into the zone and win.

  • Van

    One thing I usually do when playing is encourage my opponent to do their best. When playing pool, I’ll point out a shot that they might not have seen. In both, I am rather particular about not taking cheap safeties – when I choose among my good offensive options, defense is a secondary consideration.

    I often am more interested in either elegant play (if I can score 30 by playing a 1-value tile, instead of scoring 40 by playing three letters, I’ll probably do the former), or pushing myself (I’ve gotten quite good at combos and jump shots in pool, for instance) than actually winning. Playing well is the motivator – but in the long run, I wind up being pretty good. The exception to playing to play is if I’m playing someone who has shown themselves to be a jerk – then I go into the zone and win.

  • Jessie K

    I think you misunderstood that comment in context… I challenge myself by matching myself as evenly as I can to my opponent’s skill level… That keeps them coming back to play me again. When I play too well or too poorly, the game loses any sense of competition and ceases to be a game and becomes a bloodbath… so my apology was that of an over-zealous giant, as in “oops, I didn’t mean to step on that village too…”

  • Jessie K

    I think you misunderstood that comment in context… I challenge myself by matching myself as evenly as I can to my opponent’s skill level… That keeps them coming back to play me again. When I play too well or too poorly, the game loses any sense of competition and ceases to be a game and becomes a bloodbath… so my apology was that of an over-zealous giant, as in “oops, I didn’t mean to step on that village too…”

  • Anonymous

    I understand you didn’t intend the comment as a insult, but competition is about playing your best to me. It’s all good and fine to match my skill level, but I’d rather be able to learn from you than have you play down to me. Not everyone is that way, but for me, since know how to learn from losing rather than getting pissed or giving up, I’d rather lose miserably and see an amazing performance than have a close game where my opponent doesn’t give his or her all.

  • I understand you didn’t intend the comment as a insult, but competition is about playing your best to me. It’s all good and fine to match my skill level, but I’d rather be able to learn from you than have you play down to me. Not everyone is that way, but for me, since know how to learn from losing rather than getting pissed or giving up, I’d rather lose miserably and see an amazing performance than have a close game where my opponent doesn’t give his or her all.