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Layne Norton - Iron Tanks

Society Gone Soft

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The lost value of competition, winning, and losing

Competition is such an important part of my life. Being a bodybuilder and coach, my entire life revolves around competition, winning and losing. For any athlete, wins and losses are evident as they are tallied and put on display for all to see. What many people fail to see is that wins and losses permeate through everything in society, from finding a mate to our careers.

I apologize as this is not my usual bodybuilding article, this is an article about life and society as I see it. I am sure this article will offend some people and I am sure there are some things I will say that will seem harsh, but this is something I think about often. Our society, and therefore those in it, has become as soft as kittens covered in marshmallow fluff, piled on top of a Tempurpedic mattress. The idea of having winners and losers has apparently become offensive, and competitive endeavors have been removed because heaven forbid someone gets their feelings hurt by losing.

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I am 29 years old and I think that my age group was one of the first to see the removal of competition. We were told winning was not important, you just needed to try, and often we were taught that if we didn’t want to try that was okay too. We didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to do, we were still special.
Well, I am here to give you the harsh truth that winning DOES matter, learning to compete IS important, and you are not special until you do something that makes you special.


My Experience

Forgive me as I take a little trip down memory lane. In 5th grade I joined my school basketball team. I thought I was going to be a GREAT basketball player, and despite being chubby and slow, I still thought I would be great. I was 11 years old when I walked into my first practice and I will never forget my first experience with my coaches. They looked at us 11 year old kids and said,

“I hope you guys are ready to work! This is going to be the toughest thing you have ever done in your lives. We are here to teach you guys how to win and be winners. We are going to be your coaches for the next 4 years and we will be contending for a championship every single one of those years because we will work harder than any other team your age. Teams are going to be afraid to play us. We will also have fun in the process. Do you know why? Because winning is fun!”

They hadn’t even seen any of us play yet and they were confident that they would have us at a competitive level. Even at 11 years old I remember wondering how they could promise such a thing before seeing us play.

Our practices were BRUTAL! Nowadays I am not even sure they would be allowed to run practices like this for 5th graders. We would run until we threw up and do drills that would have me coming home bruised and bleeding constantly.

Our first game came and we lost. Not only did we lose but we were not good. I was terrible and didn’t score a single point. I got in the car with my mom and I cried…a lot. I was not the great player I thought I was going to be. My dreams were crushed.

At our next practice my coach could tell I was still upset as I was just coasting through the motions. He pulled me aside to talk to me. I expected he was going to tell me everything was alright and that I didn’t play that badly the day before. I could not be more wrong. My coach looked at me and said,

“What in the hell is wrong with you? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and pull your head out of your ass! “He then said, “I know you want to be a good player, but this comes with preparation, practice, and hard work. Nobody is going to just hand it to you. So once again, pull your head out of your ass and GET TO WORK!”

It was immediately clear to me that whining and pouting would not be tolerated. It was time for me to man up!

The season progressed and we got better. I worked hard on my own as well as at practice. As promised, our team went to the championship that year. We lost by two points. The next year in 6th grade we won the whole thing. The year after that in 7th grade we won again. In 8th grade we made it to the championship again but narrowly lost. As promised, we contended for the title every single year.

From 5th-8th grade I worked harder than most people do in their entire life. We ran until we puked, we ran through drills that always left people bruised and bloody. We were pushed to the limit each and every practice. I remember having practices on holidays too. To some this may seem extreme for a kid’s game, but at the ripe old age of 15 I entered high school with a pretty clear idea of what it takes to become a winner. Some people never get this type of education in their whole lives. This was invaluable to my development as a growing and maturing person.


Tough Love

Why did I tell this story? My coaches from 5th-8th grade did me a huge favor; they told me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear. I am thankful for that every single day. Without intending to be boastful, I have been pretty successful in most everything I have put my mind to since I was in the 5th grade. Is it because I was born with natural gifts both intellectually and athletically? Absolutely not! It is because I learned several inherent truths that all young people need to be taught, but unfortunately many in today’s society don’t want to hear:

Winning DOES Matter

This is a statement that has almost become so frowned upon that you never hear it uttered anymore. I have news for you. Success in life comes from winning various competitions. The life you want will have to be won. If there is a girl you love, then you must be prepared to win her heart before someone else does. If you want that job then I am sure someone else does too. You are now competing for it, do you have what it takes to win it?

You do not fall into the life you want, you compete for it every day you are on this earth. If you have no aspirations in life, then winning does not matter, but in that case you have no right to complain when your life is crap.

You have to earn it

Entitlement is an all too prevalent these days. You are entitled to nothing you have not earned. If you want something then you have to get up off your ass and go for it. Before you can even think about winning or having success, you have to get off the couch and actually work for it. Otherwise you have lost before you even begin. The best way to earn something is to work, work hard, and then work some more. Sometimes it is really that simple.

Life is not fair, deal with it

Some people are born with natural ability, some are not. Some people are born with money, some are not. For example, I love bodybuilding, but the truth is that there are individuals in this sport that have FAR more genetic ability than me. On my very best day of my entire career, I would not be able to beat them on the very worst day of theirs, no matter how hard I work. Does that mean I should just quit now? Of course not! If you feel that way, then you are telling me that there is no point in doing anything unless you can be the best in the entire world. I’ve got news for you, chances are that in everything you do in this life, you will not be the best in the world. Deal with it!

Losing is okay

Something I see with younger people more and more often is the inability to handle loss. Everyone is going to lose at some point or another. The important thing is how you react to it. Are you going to learn from it, use it to your advantage in the future and use it as motivation? Or are you going to fall into a depression and quit trying? The former will take you a lot further than the latter. For those that fall into a depression over every little failure, just know that you may feel sorry for yourself, but nobody else feels sorry for you. People don’t want to be around the negative person that is constantly crying, “Poor me!”.


We Created This Monster So Don’t Complain

There is a common theme as of late for older individuals in society to talk badly about people in their teens and 20’s. They will say that they are lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and too sensitive. I am not here to argue with any of that. However, before you start hurling insults at the younger generations, I suggest we look at who raised them this way. What did we think was going to happen when we told every child they were special from the moment they were born? We have given kids trophies even when they place last. Yet, we are shocked and almost insulted when they grow up thinking things will keep being handed to them. That is just insane! We conditioned them to think this way.


The Return of Competition

If you want your kids to have a better life than yourself, then it is time to start emphasizing competition. People need to learn that in life, there are winners and there are losers and your actions will directly affect which group you end up in. The sooner everyone learns this, the better. It doesn’t matter if you compete in bodybuilding like myself, baseball, football, or spelling bees. Learning to win and handle loss are not skills that exist in a vacuum, they are applicable to every single aspect of life. These are valuable skills that are being lost to society trends, but we need them now more than ever.

Hopefully if you are a young adult and have never been taught these lessons, then this article will help prepare you for life that is ahead. If you are a parent, teach your kids how to compete, how to win, and how to lose. They will thank you when they are older for telling them what they needed to hear, rather than what they wanted to hear.


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Cliff Wilson at

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