Us vs. Us?

by Ryan Krzykowski

What would it look like to go into a game or match with the mentality that my opponent is not my enemy, but rather my partner?  I think about all the games I have played or coached over the years, bringing the attitude that I hate those guys on the other side.  In my own mind, I vilified opponents to the point where they were hardly human to me at times.  It’s not like I went out of my way to mistreat or hurt them, I just didn’t care about them.  Nothing about them mattered very much to me at all.  They weren’t people, simply obstacles in my path.

Former NFL defensive lineman Joe Ehrmann writes about his twice a year battles with Hall of Fame guard John Hannah.  There’s a line that I read from Joe that began to change the way I view opponents, and really competition overall.  Joe writes, “It wasn’t so much that we were trying to defeat each other, but rather that we were trying to achieve something together.”  He explains that facing John Hannah forced him to elevate his game to its highest possible level, and that the respect and admiration he had for Hannah served him far better than the typical desire to defeat a hated rival.

I have a friend who’s a high school head coach that wondered out loud to me about what his players might be thinking when they see him greet the opposing head coach with a hug before a game.  We talked about how this gives him an opportunity to explain to the players that his friendship with their opponent takes nothing away from his desire to coach the team as well as possible, or his desire to help his kids win.  Most high school kids understand how intense the competitive fire can burn in a “friendly” pick up game with their buddies, or a backyard game with their siblings.  If anything, our closeness to people and love/respect for them can drive us to get the most out of ourselves.

Take that idea beyond a sports context.  Imagine the good that can be done if we can successfully teach a large percentage of our children that opponent and enemy are not synonymous.   A portion of the Olympic creed speaks to that idea, stating:

“You are my opponent, but not my enemy,
for your resistance gives me strength.
Your will gives me courage.
Your spirit ennobles me.
And, although I aim to defeat you, should I succeed,
I will not humiliate you, instead I will honour you.
For without you, I am a lesser man.”

Even in the political realm, I am reminded of Bob Dole’s 1996 concession speech in which he reminded us that the President was his opponent but not his enemy.  That attitude is uplifting and empowering.  It gives us a chance to remember that people who oppose us, in whatever manner, need not be seen as “them”.  We really can view those on the other side as “one of us”.