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Columnist Alison Powell considers the ups and downs of a competitive spirit

Have you ever strained every sinew and gone for something, only to find yourself sprawled on your back in pain? I have. It happened a couple of days ago, during a badminton match, the first time I have played since living in a world before Covid. I was winning by a mile, my opponent mounted a comeback and we were almost at a draw. I really wanted to win, not least because of the lead I had squandered but mainly because I couldn’t remember the last time I had won a game of badminton, despite enjoying playing. I was racing backwards to take a shot and stumbled over myself. I felt myself falling but could do nothing to stop. The fall managed to be both fast and slow and then I was on the ground, my wrist bent back, my thigh in pain and my breath caught. My partner’s hand was offered and their face was full of concern. I was busy being mortified.

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Once up, calmed and home I reflected on the urge to win. I have never really considered myself especially competitive. I haven’t taken part in any competitive team sports since primary school. I like to run, but my goal has always been to enjoy it and feel fit, rather than any urge to smash any records. I have always worked hard at school, at university, at work, but that was about enjoying what I do and pride in what I could achieve.

I have a friend who is laid back to the point of being horizontal and in the race of life is neither the hare nor the turtle, more like the cat, curled up snoozing. But they live a life they are comfortable with and cause no one nor themselves any fuss.

I know some incredibly competitive people, in one person in particular it is a competitive streak that crosses the border of over-bearing, in to the land of downright unpleasant. Everything is about winning, at work, in sport, in every aspect of life. Yet they seem to be one of the unhappiest people I know. Someone never satisfied; someone unable to enjoy a ‘moment’; someone who sees no value in just taking part in anything, from a gentle jog to a board game. Even sadder is that even the win does not seem to bring any joy and so you have to wonder, if neither the activity nor the winning brings happiness, peace or satisfaction, what is the point?

Watching the recent Wales v Turkey football match, it was exhilarating to see the team’s passion and drive and in their performance and attitude, rallied a nation. So competition has a role, it can be positive, it doesn’t always involve a fall and pain and if it does, there is something about your attitude to that. Maybe there is nothing wrong with being competitive, as long as that streak is wrapped in humility, grace and hopefully some joy in the taking part

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