There’s one big problem I notice that relates to competition, and it is caused by masculinity. It’s a problem not just in sports, but everywhere: men and boys trying to prove that they are strong or in charge. This behavior is passed on from generation to generation, with the reinforcement of stereotypes that men need to be strong and not feel emotions. People yell horrible homophobic, sexist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and racist things at each other, and for what? To prove their superiority over their peers. This is a horrible problem in competition. Sometimes people will say things they never meant to say.
I have one specific example that may sound quite surprising if, like me, you live in a bubble void of anything politically incorrect. I was very surprised when my friend, who is one of the kindest people I have met, yelled a homophobic term at hockey practice that should never be uttered. I proceeded to tell him that what he said was not okay, and he apologized.
So why do I still play hockey after all of this? I play because I enjoy some of the competition, not the masculinity factor, but the thrill and excitement of gliding on three-millimeter-wide blades. I enjoy the feeling that I can compete with others, and also just the fact that hockey is fun.
As a Quaker myself, I would say there can be a Quakerly approach to anything, be it competition or even things like how you live your day-to-day life. I think it would look a little like this: It would mean that people would interact with kindness and respect, no matter if they win or lose, and this approach would be based on the Quaker testimonies of equality and peace. Equality because even when people lose they should be treated with equal respect and kindness. Peace because it means not doing harm to others physically or emotionally. I do not know how realistic that is now, but I think it would be great if we as a society worked to transform competition into a more peaceful and caring experience. I think it would prevent people from speaking as they do on my hockey team and would make things a whole lot more fun for everyone, not just the winners.