Monday, March 22, 2010

Individual or Team Sport?

Is competing an individual or a team sport?

Interesting question ... one that I've been pondering for the past couple months. The argument can go either way, and the answer is perhaps different for each person.

Let's take a look what goes into a contest prep.

Well, the first obvious thing to point out is that despite anyone's help and support, there's only one person standing on that stage: the competitor.
Score: Individual - 1

Would the competitor be standing on stage if there were no audience or cheering section for them? Would they still have come to the show to compete? Perhaps. I know people who have gone to shows by themselves and competed without knowing any other competitors or having anyone in the audience to cheer for them. Was it easy for those people? Was it as fun as if there had been people there to support them? No, it wasn't easy, and it wasn't as fun. But it's possible.
Score: Individual - 1, Team - 1

The only person dieting is the competitor. The competitor is the only one putting food in her mouth, resisting all the temptations of cookies and donuts, and dealing with the hunger pains and fatigue of a low calorie diet.
Score: Individual -1

Who tells the competitor what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat? Most competitors work with trainers, nutritionists, or coaches, although a small number do their own diet. Looking at the majority of competitors, the coach's knowledge of food, nutrients, diet, and timing are critical factors that play into a successful prep and contest experience.
Score: Team - 1

The only person doing the training and cardio is the competitor. No one else is struggling through early morning cardio, hanging onto the treadmill at a 15% incline, or running stairs at the stadium. No one else is holding that weight above their heads or doing 180 lunge sets all over the gym.
Score: Individual - 1

Are there other people in the gym who see the competitor struggling through training and cardio each day? Of course! More often than not, those people provide positive encouragement and support that help the competitor continue to push hard and train at a high intensity. However, there will always be one or more people who provide negative or unsolicited feedback and discouragement for various reasons. Perhaps they don't see the point of going through the pain and fatigue ... perhaps they're jealous or envious and are too dense to realize it ... perhaps they think they know better than the competitor ... perhaps they feel threatened by the competitor. It could be any number of reasons, and sadly enough, negative feedback is something almost every competitor faces at some point in their career. It's up to the individual to look past the comments and to remember their goal and their reasons for competing.
Score - Individual - 1, Team - 1

I've heard people say that they don't even tell their co-workers, friends, acquaintances, family that they're competing. There are various reasons for this. Some people don't want to answer countless questions about prep, diet, and training. Others don't want to draw attention to themselves. Still others want to surprise people by walking on stage and winning the show.
Score - Individual - 1

I've also heard the statement that it's not possible to be successful in this sport without a strong support system. They argue that we need people to turn to when the prep gets tough, when we're at our breaking point, when just the thought of another cardio session leads to a panic attack. It's at this point, we realize that humans need companionship and comfort from others.
Score - Team - 1

Each division (bodybuilding, fitness, figure, bikini) has its own mandatory (and non-mandatory, but certainly expected) requirements for posing, presentation, routine, music, and attire. Where and how do we learn this requirements so we know what's expected of us when we stand in front of the judges? Have you ever been to a show where there's one person who clearly didn't do their homework? They didn't tan, don't know how to pose, are wearing swim trunks instead of a posing suit, etc. At most local shows, there's usually at least one person who didn't take the time to learn the requirements. There are quite a few ways to learn the requirements: read articles online, look at pictures of competitions, follow forum threads, post questions online, attend posing classes, watch videos of shows, attend camps and competitor meetings, work with coaches and trainers, ask veteran competitors. I recommend all of these suggestions! Doing your own research and then networking and actually talking to others who compete is a winning combination.
Score - Individual - 1, Team - 1

Total score - Individual - 7, Team - 5

Looks like this is just slightly more an individual sport with compelling evidence that a support system and team provides an edge.

I chatted with one of my friends today who told me that she's struggling with her prep. She's in a town that has a very small bodybuilding community (read: 2 other competitors), and with a group of friends whose interests lie outside of the gym. As she's preparing for a show, she's encountering a lot of negative comments and criticism that are causing her to doubt herself. Anyone who competes knows that negative comments can be extremely damaging to a competitor during prep. We're all balancing on the edge of breaking down, and one negative comment could tip the scale toward a failed prep.

What I heard from her is that not only do people not understand what and why she's doing this, they're viewing it as an individual sport that shouldn't affect their lives. When she's upset and crying, she's affecting their lives. But aren't "friends" supposed to support each other, even if they don't understand or agree with the decision? And even though my very crude analysis of prep as an individual vs team effort returned results about it being more of an Individual sport, teamwork is still a very important part of it.

I told my friend to ask her "friends" if they've ever had a dream or a goal? And if so, did they give up just because the journey got difficult? If yes, then the goal clearly wasn't very important, or they were too weak to achieve it. I also told her to ask them why they want her to fail. Perhaps they don't even realize they're encouraging her to fail ... and perhaps they do realize it, but don't understand why they feel that way. I hope that question prompts some self-discovery in those people. And if not, well, at least she tried.

I also suggested she distance herself from those people until after her competition. Perhaps they'll never understand why she competes. Perhaps they'll never be supportive. Then it's her decision as to whether she wants to keep those people in her life.

Some people distance themselves from everyone during prep in order to remain focused. Is this selfish? Some might say yes. Others might say no - because true champions do what it takes to achieve their goal. I do believe, however, that as much as this sport is about the individual, it's the teamwork behind the scenes that helps that individual shine.

So thank you to everyone who supported me during my Arnold prep. Your positive comments, encouragement, hugs, and smiles kept me going. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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