Some of us in Sactown have traveled near and far to compete. We look for the calendar when it comes out, talk about whom we should hook up with (which should be a blog in itself), think about tournaments that we want to win this year, and get excited when competition days are near. There is something special about competitions that keeps bringing us back, again and again, even when we lose badly and say to ourselves - I am done with competing! Perhaps competition is like having a goal that is really exciting and fun - analogous to planning a vacation, or perhaps it's like being pregnant and giving birth - you forget the pain and remember the joy.
Perhaps we compete because competitions are thrilling, physically and mentally, and we love the stimulation that they bring. No matter how much we practice, when we get into that circle on tournament day, we get those familiar reactions. The heart races faster, the palms get sweaty, and the arm stiffens up beyond our control, or we find ourselves in an incredible zone - every shot is made, and every point is perfectly placed in front of the cochonnet. As non-professional players in the U.S., we also have a lot to learn about how to manage our emotions during competitions. Adrenaline aside, we sometimes make mental mistakes, like having the "halo effect" about our opponent; this is when we face a good player, we think "oh no, this person is so good, I will never win against them" and proceed to fulfill our own prophecy. We already lost before we began. The opposite can also happen - we underestimate an opponent whom we think is not as good as we are, and who ends up outplaying us brilliantly.
Winning is also thrilling, but a different set of reactions sets in. When we win, we feel elated and confident yet relieved that it's over as our bodies come down from the rush. We begin to show signs of exhaustion - the mental fatigue from hours of hyper-focus and aches and stiffness from standing, squatting, reaching, walking, and carrying boules all day. The glory of fame lasts briefly as everyone is now thinking about the next tournament.
We have talked with experienced players who gave sage advice on how to handle ourselves during tournaments. We paraphrased some of them here to share their wisdom.
Focus on the game and the boules, not the person you are playing against.
Take your time getting into the circle, don't rush to throw your boule or make decisions too quickly. Pace your game.
Don't show anger or disappointment at your teammates or yourself. No one is perfect or plays poorly on purpose. Along that line, avoid negative talk and stay focused on your goal.
Don't think about winning, think about playing your best game. Our zealous desire to win can make us lose sight of the game, and we may end up losing because of it. Sometimes, the best players are not the ones who win tournaments.
Situations are never permanent. The game can change very quickly so stay in it all the way, don't give up. A little luck may come your way.
Don't make excuses about why the end didn't go well or why your ball didn't land where you had wanted; think about what you can do to improve, adjust and move on.
Win with humility and lose with grace.
Remember it's a game, have fun.
Competitions can teach us a lot about ourselves. They can bring out the best and the worse in us. We hope the next competition will bring out the best in you. Keep playing!