The Personal Is Political: Competition & the Dunning Argument

Competition — it’s apart of every aspect of our lives, whether we want it to be or not. We compete on a daily basis — with each other, and more often than not, with ourselves. Sometimes these competitions are for nothing more than pleasure, but other times, the stakes are high.

Photo by Lorenzo Bongiovanni

Photo by John Wirth Photography (Labeled for Reuse)

I love to compete. I look at each competition I partake in as an opportunity to see where I stand compared to the last time I competed. By doing so, it allows me to set goals, and then effectively try and reach them. If you have ever done the same, you’ll know what a rewarding feeling it is to reach one of your goals.

So far this semester, Eric Dunning’s chapter “The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement Striving and the Social Significance of Sport” has been the most relevant piece of literature to my own life.

In class, we agreed that Dunning’s theory included one central idea: as competitiveness increases, so does seriousness.

Throughout my childhood as a young hockey player, I found my competitiveness to increase with age. When I was first starting out, I played hockey because my dad wanted me to, and after a little while, I started to have fun with it.

Photo by Lorenzo Bongiovanni

Photo by Lorenzo Bongiovanni

I never thought much of it, but as I continued to play into my early teens, I found myself struggling to compete at high levels, which I realized I wanted to do. My lack of seriousness at a young age set me behind initially, but since then, with my desire to compete at higher and higher levels, how seriously I took the sport increased uniformly. As a high school player, once again I found myself seeking higher goals. Starting out on Junior Varsity, I wanted nothing more than to compete at the Varsity level. I knew that nothing would be given, and that just like everything else I had earned in the past, I would have to earn a Varsity spot as well. Working hard on and off the ice, maintaining a strict diet, and continually improving my mental toughness allowed me to reach my goal of playing Varsity hockey. For many, this would have been the final goal.

Photo by John Wirth Photography (Labeled for Reuse)

Photo by John Wirth Photography (Labeled for Reuse)

Playing Varsity hockey only pushed me to achieve more and more; both individual accomplishments and team accomplishments. While I may have understated the commitment achieving these goals required, I enjoyed reaching them enough to continue —  day in and day out.


Photo by Chase Brown (Labeled for Reuse)

Now, competing at a Collegiate level in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), I have reached another one of my goals that I set out for at the end of my senior year. I knew it would be difficult to reach, and with the commitment I made to my personal success over the summer, I left nothing to chance.

This is where I disagree with Dunning’s statements slightly. Dunning makes it clear that the “amateur ethos” means that you are playing the game just for fun. Clearly I don’t have the intention of playing professional hockey, yet I play hockey for something more than just fun. I play because I love to compete, I love to push myself to new limits, and I love to set and reach goals. Dunning really only allows for the two sides of play — professional and amateur — however I think it is clear there is a wide grey area. I would propose instead 3 areas of play: Professional (where you are paid to play), Amateur (Playing competitively with either the intention of advancing to the professional level or not), and Recreational (Playing for fun). By modifying Dunning’s argument, I feel that everything he is saying is relevant — especially everything in regards to growing seriousness and competitiveness.

I can’t imagine living without trying to compete. I feel competition helps define who a person really is. When you are struggling, that is when character is built. Because of all the unique situations of adversity I have been apart of, I feel my character has flourished as a result. I would encourage everyone to find ways to compete on a daily basis, or at give goal setting a try — I promise, there are few better feelings than reaching a stretch goal you set out for.

I’ll leave off with one of my favorite motivational videos (just for kicks):