The basketball court and the classroom, the union hall and the corporate boardroom, the Senate floor and the Presidential campaign trail-these are a few of the settings where I have engaged in that sometimes magical and sometimes unsuccessful process that we call competition.
My initial appreciation of competition developed along with my love of basketball. Through twenty years of high school, college, and pro ball, I learned the core values that have guided my life. I wrote about these in my 1998 book, Values of the Game. While I can no longer play like I once did when the Knicks were winning national championships, I still experience great joy from most of my basketball memories.
After my life in professional sports, I went on to a life in politics and public service. I won a United States Senate seat three times and eventually lost a Presidential campaign. Of course, I much prefer winning to losing, but when I gave my best, I never regretted having competed.
As a Senator, I worked hard for Title IX to make sure girls and women in educational institutions have as many opportunities to benefit from sports competition as guys like me. Sports competition can provide powerful learning opportunities, and knowing how to compete fairly and respectfully, with an eye toward excellence, can enrich our lives. During my 18 years in the Senate and now in my business career, my appreciation for competition broadened as I saw it stir innovations in science, engineering, education, commerce, and communications.
But there is a shadow side to competition as well. In fact, I left the Senate in 1996, deciding not to run for a fourth term, in part because I concluded that American politics had become a form of competition run amuck. Rather than competing over what ideas would serve our country best, we spent far too much of our time contesting over money and producing negative sound bites. The search for truth and the common good was too often sacrificed to political expediency and narrow self-interest.
Competition can bring out our worst, as well as our best. I have seen it on the basketball court and I’ve seen it in the halls of government. David Shields and Brenda Bredemeier, the authors of this book, are keenly aware of both the potentials and pitfalls of competition in all parts of our society.
I first met the book’s authors when I was the guest speaker at a banquet sponsored by the Mendelson Center for Sports, Character, and Community at the University of Notre Dame. They were the founders and co-directors of the center and were widely regarded as leading scholars in the field of sport psychology, particularly as it relates to character development. This book is an extension of that work and it is a pleasure for me to write its forward.
True Competition is a powerful book. The authors clearly separate competition from a destructive look-alike, which they call decompetition, as well as its qualities and causes. By separating the concepts of true competition from decompetition, they present a compelling explanation that helps to clarify when and why contests result in bad outcomes, rather than good.
But David and Brenda don’t just offer analyses. They also offer solutions. They structure the major portion of the book as a kind of field guide that features "distinguishing marks" of true competition and decompetition, identifies threats to competition, and presents leadership strategies to promote the best that competition has to offer. They root their interpretation in the facts of real life.
I have known the upsides and the downsides of competition, and I appreciate True Competition because it has helped me gain deeper insight into my own experiences. More importantly, I feel better equipped to create and sustain the most positive and productive forms of competition in ways that benefit everyone-my family, my work associates, our country, and our world. I want as many as possible to benefit from competitive experiences that fuel excellence and the kind of lasting enjoyment and satisfaction that I have found.
I hope that, like me, you find this thought-provoking book both enjoyable and useful. It is one of the few books that is equally suited for both scholars and practitioners, and for those who work with children and those who work with professionals. Whatever your position or vocation, it can help you turn competition into a positive force. Whether you are a coach or an athlete, an educator or a parent, a businessperson or a politician, or just a curious reader, True Competition can help you and those you work with rise to new levels of excellence and enjoyment.
-Senator Bill Bradley