Are You Letting Yourself Win?

Triathletes and open water swimmers are often split into two categories, those looking to compete and those who just want to complete.

"Completers" love setting themselves a challenge which feels a little scary but creates a real buzz of excitement at the same time. They use that heady mix of fear and excitement for motivation to train for the big day. They try to fit training and racing in around their normal life and see their chosen sport as part of a bigger picture.

"Competers" on the other hand are all about performance. Just finishing an event isn't enough, it's about where they place and improving on their previous performances. They train hard and can't help but get a little obsessed about how things are going. Rather than fitting training around their lives they end up fitting life around their training.

Unfortunately Competers often look down on Completers thinking "If you just trained harder and believed in yourself a bit more, you could be so much faster than you are". And whilst that's undoubtably true, would getting more focused ultimately make them happier?

The thing is Completers are very good at something that Competers are very bad at: letting themselves win. They set a challenging goal but something that is actually achievable and feel great when they reach that goal.

Allow yourself to celebrate before you even start!

Competers on the other hand tend to set their goals just out of reach so they rarely hit them. Or, when they do hit them, immediately move their targets higher again. Rather than taking satisfaction from training hard and doing their best, they judge themselves and their self worth from their pure performance. All too often things end in failure: "I was 2 seconds per 100m slower than I should be" or "If I hadn't got that injury 2 months ago I could be winning my age group".

You should never be unhappy if you've given it all you've got.

If you are one of those competitive types, take a leaf out of the Completers book and occasionally give yourself a pat on the back, taking satisfaction from doing your best. Not your best as in the best you ever could be if you didn't have a job and never got sick and all the stars aligned on race day... but your best given there was a howling gale on race day, you had to go on that business trip and yes, your husband doesn't understand.

In a nutshell: let it go and let yourself win occasionally.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

This is a great post! I'm definitely a Completer - I always end up in the back, struggling even not to end up last - but I'm always so happy to have finished the race! Only when I'm asked about it afterwards, I tend to give excuses for being so slow... I should be more proud of myself! Even if I'm last, I'm way better than all those that never started. And the real struggle is not the race itself, but combining training with a job, kids, recurring injuries, and a husband that doesn't understand. So yes, I'll let myself win the next time. No matter where I finish, no more excuses for me!

Jonas said...

In my view, the problem for competers is that triathlon is their whole live, not so for completers. This means that, psychologically, completers are more balanced than competers.

rob Licht said...

Excellent post that applies to so many sports. I was always a competer- and in my younger years I did win a lot. But now I don't do races at all because I never learned how to turn that competitive monster off and just relax. Through therapy I learned that my excessive drive to be the best was tied to my inner need for acceptance and my dufficult childhood. Now, when I volunteer, I see the smiles on the faces of the people at the end of pack and wonder: how I can be like them?

SeaEagle said...

Great post, Paul. As a former competer turned completer, as I aged it occurred to me that I was not enjoying the joy of finishing any longer. When I lost 45 lbs over four years and started to race again against my age group, I was so happy to finish second or third that I realized just what you goals were constantly just outside what I could do. The result was stress and disappointment, and a need of a serious reality check. At 61 years, I'm just happy to be finishing with a bunch of 30-40 year olds around me. Everything else is a grace that good joints and general good health have bestowed. My job is to complete and savor the experience...wins are just frosting!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this is a fantastic post. I used to be a competer and unfortunately I never gave myself a pat on the back for what I actually achieved because I always wanted to be better than I could be. A bit older and wiser I am now happy to be a completer, although I still try to be the best I can be on the day.

Pawl said...

Excellent post. I am a happy completer. While I would like to get faster and I do try to push myself, what I really like doing is feeling I'm doing my best.

I hope coaches will also think about the difference in swimmers' psychologies.

Barry middleton said...

Theres also a cohort somewhere in between, those who were completers but now have more belief in their ability to get round, so now its about getting their best out. Thats a weird place to be!

Crispin Thorold said...

Paul - great blog post as always. I would add (as a completer) that you can be a competitive completer. It's just that you tend to be competing with yourself. As a completer who is working towards an English Channel solo attempt (over many years!) I am consistently pushing myself...with an English Channel relay, with a Rottnest solo, next week with Cork distance week...all of these were well beyond grasp when I started swimming again a few years ago. My aim is to complete, but that wouldn't be possible without a bit of self-competing.

Paul said...

You're absolutely right Crispin!

Credit on this piece needs to go to Adam it has to be said...of course it follows on very much from my experience last week at the Otillo race where I was very much aiming to complete rather than compete. A liberating experience and one which actually saw us perform well!

Good luck with your channel swims!


Crispin Thorold said...

Thanks Paul Swim Smooth is helping me all the way...and Otillo sounds amazing!
All best,

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