Competition consumes the life of many outside of the classroom
by Clare Driscoll, ’19 and Molly Mitchell, ’20
Isabel Ali, symphonic choir member. Cat Fernandez, marching band member and water polo player. Jamie Stummer, lacrosse and soccer player. Linus Fraley, Abby Taggart, Jane Smith* and Clare Baryluk, marching band members. Sammy Sass, basketball, football and baseball player. Abhik Mazumder, symphony orchestra member. Alex Criss, basketball and soccer player. Students my spend their free time giving it all on the field or practicing days on end for the big concert yet one thing connects them: competition.
WHY THE COMPETITION?
Junior band member Jane Smith has lived in Upper Arlington for the majority of her life. According to her, this community is a breeding ground for competitive spirits.
“Upper Arlington is full of people who want to prove that they are the best. That’s why every part of life here seems so high stakes because everyone wants to be seen by the others as the best,” Jane said.
Smith feels like the competitiveness here comes from that need to be the best. This view is backed up by junior Cat Fernandez, a mellophone player. She spoke about how competition in the marching band stems from underclassmen trying to prove that they can be leaders.
“Sometimes underclassmen who are pretty good at marching and playing try to prove that they’re fit for leadership,” Fernandez said. “It just makes things harder on the people actually in charge because [underclassmen] think that they don’t have to listen to you and it makes the rest of the section be more competitive because as soon as one feels like they have something to prove, so do the rest.”
Mazumder agrees that strong personalities can cause for competitive attitudes.
“The [orchestra] program itself doesn’t foster competition very much,” Mazumder said. “I think that there are a lot of kids who have really strong egos and even if they don’t actually care about how they’re playing they do care about how they’re viewed by other people in the orchestra and the seating.”
One of the biggest parts of any sport or activity are the friendships formed. Teammates are lifelong friends. Junior Alex Criss, basketball and softball player, says her teammates are the main reason she shows up to practice everyday.
“People who I wouldn’t have met through basketball are now some of my best friends and the reason I love playing,” Criss said.
Fernandez said that within the water polo program, competition and conflict have to be resolved quickly for the sake of saving the team and the friendships involved.
“We spend so much of our day together that if there is [drama], it needs to be fixed because it’s going to be miserable for the next few months,” Fernandez said .
But in some activities, friendships can feel like the difference between succeeding and not getting any recognition. Ali touched on the music program’s tendencies to avert towards an exclusive attitude.
“The vocal music program becomes very cliquey,” Ali said, “Some people think that if you don’t get into the inner friend group, you didn’t succeed or you didn’t make it because many of them are the ones getting the leads and solos. I feel like that is what everyone is striving to be: a part of that friend group.”
Competition can also stem jealousy among friends as Ali notices in the vocal music program. When every member is competing for a solo or front and center spot in a formation, jealousy can split friendships.
“People definitely turn their backs on each other just to get what they want,” Ali said.
KEEPING IT FUN
For many students, participation in sports or other extracurriculars is meant to be a fun activity to take their minds off of the stresses of school and everyday life, but according to participating students, the competitive atmosphere at UAHS makes extracurriculars another thing to worry about.
Ali said auditions for the winter musical take fun out of the whole process of creating a show.
“Everybody hates [musical auditions]. I think there are so many people in our school that could easily be a part of our program but are too scared to because of the competitiveness that it brings out in people,” said Ali
Ali recounts how she almost did not try out for last year’s musical Anything Goes because of how competitive it got
“I’m glad that I did, but I felt like I hurt a lot of people [who were also going for my part].”
Junior Abby Taggart, a flute and oboe player in the band, said that there are members of band who participate to solely to have a fun activity to do with their friends which can lead to competition with those who are in the marching band because of their talent.
“That doesn’t mean that [people who join to be with their friends] won’t still work hard, but when they’re put under so much pressure to succeed, it’s no longer fun for them because they are comparing themselves to the people around them… That’s where the competitiveness comes in,” said Taggart.
Jane Smith said how the competitive culture has changed over the years.
“I joined band because I saw how much fun it was for my older sibling,” Smith said. “There was definitely a culture that focused more on having a good time before and now it’s more about working really hard which has made it very competitive.”
Sass said he has seen the difference between athletes who are there to compete and athletes who want to have a good time and how this can affect players. He recognizes a difference between players who want to play and college and those who are playing to have a good experience.
“It can definitely be harder for kids who are just there to have fun to get on teams and enjoy it while they’re there when they are constantly compared to people who have a competitive edge and are looking for a scholarship out of it,” he said.
Many students, including Sass, feel that the influence of coaches or directors use competition as a way to motivate students.
“The coaches are always trying to get the best out of people. They really like to rile us up and for most kids that is just taken as an energy boost, but some take it as a chance to compete with others,” Sass said.
For band director Todd Fessler, competition is a constructive way for students to improve their own skills. He sees competition as a catalyst to encourage personal growth for the sake of collective growth of the entire band.
“I think [the competition] makes it more fun because then it gives you something to work towards. Especially with a team like what we are it gives you a sense of pride when competing with each other to want to be better,” Fessler said.
But for senior soccer and lacrosse player Jamie Stummer, the coaches, she feels, push competition and strike animosity within the team.
“I think that coaches initiate competition in some ways… Like during 1v1 drills against each other during tryouts. It becomes more competitive among our team and the fact that you really have to fight for starting positions and playing time… If you play the same position as someone, that can get a little competitive,” Stummer said.
Smith also feels this level of competition within the band program can be too much, which is why she chose to be anonymous for this story.
“I feel like if other people knew I had these feelings they would think less of me which is just buying into all of the competitiveness,” Smith said.
THINGS GETTING BETTER
While the constant fight to be the best in extra curricular activities may look bleak for some students, there are others, like Ali, that see changes in their program.
“I think in the past there has been a lot of competition because people thought that if you got into ensemble then you were set up for everything else in that program, including the musical. And that if you didn’t make it into ensemble, you basically failed at everything from then on out,” said Ali. “That kinda was true… With our new director, things have definitely been changing and I don’t think that will be true anymore, and I don’t think that should be true.”
Smith agrees, believing that at the end of the day, these activities are meant to add to our day and not take away from it.
“Beyond all the competition, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. I believe that it can be very hard to enjoy it when you lose that perspective and get all caught up in the fight to be the best,” Smith said
For those who are losing enjoyment in their activity, Mazumder gives advice on how to keep it fun.
“If you want to avoid that kind of mentality you have to sort of look in the right places because there are definitely people who are not judgemental,” Mazumder said.