Commentary: Competition brings out the best in us, but no one wants to lose

Delbarton and St. Joseph faced off on the football field last weekend despite months of protests and appeals. (Photo: Jennifer Brown, Special to The Record)

Delbarton and St. Joseph faced off on the football field last weekend despite months of protests and appeals. (Photo: Jennifer Brown, Special to The Record)

Competition is the core of high school athletics, but like everything else, our view of it keeps evolving.

Some would say not in a good way.

Delbarton stating its desire not to play football against Don Bosco Prep and St. Joseph is merely one example of school officials questioning the status quo. The school reluctantly agreed to play them after months of protest, and performed well Saturday in its 28-14 loss to the Green Knights.

Dumont and Mahwah will play football Friday night in a game Dumont officials initially said they would consider forfeiting. The schools eventually came to an agreement.

Elsewhere, North Jersey continues to consider tinkering with its county tournament formats. The strength of the non-public programs often leads to a competitive imbalance in county events, although there are public school dynasties as well. Ridgewood’s girls lacrosse comes to mind immediately.

Is this a case of overprotective parents and coaches being too cautious and shielding their children from a no-win scenario? Or is it time to reevaluate what competition truly means at the high school level?

“Let’s go back,” said Dr. Rob Gilbert, a sport psychology professor at Montclair State University. “Compete, from the Latin, means to strive together, not beat anybody. Look at track and field: Rarely is a world record set in practice. It’s when we’re competing that we bring out the best in each other.”

Gilbert and his Montclair State colleague John McCarthy have studied the trends in athletics for decades. McCarthy teaches classes on coaching. Gilbert is a well-known motivational speaker with a popular Success Hotline updated daily.

McCarthy believes high school sports have fundamentally changed, even from 10 years ago. He’s written a lengthy treatise on the subject, “A New Normal,” contending that recruiting exists at public and non-public schools, and calling for the Directors of Athletics Association of New Jersey to take ownership of the state’s controversial transfer issue.

When it comes to the changing notion of competition, McCarthy refers to multiple factors.

“Everything has been accelerated,” McCarthy said. “College signing day is an all-day telecast on ESPN, and the All-America football game is broadcast. When you elevate the level of play like that, it draws publicity and some people don’t value just being competitive.

“It’s all about winning.”

Recognition and attention are huge factors now in high school athletics. There are thousands of highlight videos out there. Big plays are tweeted and re-tweeted by athletes and parents. Why? To garner attention from colleges and perhaps earn a scholarship.

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