Life is Competition

Article Written by Dr. Carl McGown

The May 10, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated contained a headline article entitled “Our Favorite Dynasties.” In this article SI selects its 20 favorite teams of the 20th century. The top five teams were: (1) the Boston Celtics with Bill Russell, (2) the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football teams of Frank Leahy, (3) the UCLA Bruin basketball teams of John Wooden, (4) the New York Yankees from 1947 to 1962, and (5) the Chicago Bulls with the great Michael Jordan. On the list at number 9 was the North Carolina women’s soccer team. It was the only women’s team in the entire list.

The coach of the North Carolina team is Anson Dorrance who has written two very good books. In the first one, Training Soccer Champions, he details something he calls his competitive cauldron. The way the cauldron works is in practice at North Carolina every player is assessed in practice every day for everything she does. Everything is recorded and then they put the charts on the wall (the standings in the cauldron are there for everyone to see). Anson reasons that the kind of player who wants to be a champion will fight to the top of the ladder. If she doesn’t want to be a champion then her ranking will not affect her. He believes that it is possible to take young women who do not feel comfortable in competitive environments and teach them that it is okay to compete. In his second book, The Vision of a Champion he makes this remarkable assertion: “If there is a defining aspect of UNC women’s soccer, and its success, it is what we call the competitive cauldron. . . . It is the pinnacle of our program.”

When I was coaching at BYU, I read Anson’s first book and immediately (September of 1998) put a cauldron in place. Not so long thereafter (May 1999) we were the 1999 NCAA champions. Then we won again in 2001. I retired, but the cauldron is still in place at BYU (Tom Peterson is now the coach) and the Cougars have been in the NCAA finals four of the last six years and have won the title three times. In May of 2003 I became the assistant coach of the USA men’s team. Head coach Doug Beal let us put a cauldron in place (we call it a Matrix), and we think it has had a wonderful impact on the training intensity in our gym. We are bound for the Olympics in August, so that is when we will really find out how much it has helped, but we do know it has already helped a lot (especially when we had to select the final 12 players to be on the Olympic roster).

As I ask coaches about whether or not they have a cauldron in place I am usually told that they do not. They cite two main reasons: (1) it is too much work for me as I am all alone in practice and can’t assess my athletes every day for everything they do, and (2) young girls just can’t stand the pressure of the competition.

I knew that there were ways to get the assessments, but I wasn’t sure about getting young girls to accept competition. So it was with great delight, when I was reading a book by Will and Ariel Durant, Lessons of History, that I came across these words. I wanted to share them with everyone.

“History is a fragment of Biology. Therefore the laws of biology are the fundamental lessons of history. We are subject to the processes and trials of evolution, to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest to survive. If some of us seem to escape the strife or the trials it is because our group protects us: but that group itself must meet the tests of survival (pp.18-19).”

“So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life—peaceful when food abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food. Animals eat one another without qualm; civilized men consume one another by due process of law. Co-operation is real, and increases with social development, but mostly because it is a tool and form of competition; we co-operate in our group—our family, community, club, church, party race, or nation—in order to strengthen our group in its competition with other groups.

The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection. In the competition for food or mates or power some organisms succeed and some fail. In the struggle for existence some individuals are better equipped than others to meet the tests of survival. Since Nature has not read very carefully the American Declaration of Independence or the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, we are all born unfree and unequal: subject to our physical and psychological heredity, and to the customs and traditions of our group.

To check the growth of inequality, liberty must be sacrificed. Even when repressed, inequality grows; only the man who is below the average in economic ability desires equality; those who are conscious of superior ability desire freedom. A society in which all potential abilities are allowed to develop and function will have a survival advantage in the competition of groups (pp.19-20).”

My proposal is the same as Anson’s. Get a cauldron in place. No matter how much work it is. You can do it and we will help. It will have an incredible influence for good on your team, and it will teach the young people on your team the first biological lesson of history: Life is competition.