Secrets of Competition: The fountain of youth discovered in Ohio’s ‘Speed Switch’

Every year I look forward to the whip contests at the Annie Oakley Festival because for me it is a measurement that I take to determine my personal efficiencies. Whip work and what it takes to strike 10 targets in 12 seconds or less possesses the same skills that make forward leaning philosophy so cutting edge or management strategies fluidly clear. When you step up to the line to begin those contests, all the same emotions rush through your mind, push too hard or fast and you will miss targets. Take things too casually, and your stopwatch time will be bad, and physical timing is everything—maintaining a nice even pace that accomplishes the task is of utmost importance. Many might think that it is the desire to beat the other competitors that drives a person like me in these competitions—but its not. I happen to think the world of all the people who participate in the Annie Oakley events and I rejoice when they do well—even if it is at my expense. The real challenge as it is in most competitions—it is always yourself that you must compete against. The optimal thing is to show up, do your best measured against your values, and relish the results for the sake of them happening. I had a rough start in the competitions this year; I had a couple of penalties which added 10 seconds to my time on the Speed and Accuracy. It bothered me that things didn’t go as well as they should, so on the next competition I performed much better on the Speed Switch, seen below.

On that one, the speed was perfect, the rhythm was there, and the strikes were wonderful even with both hands. Upon completing that run, it felt good to strike that final crack because I felt I had my mind and body centered from the task which is exactly the feeling I was looking for. I really didn’t care what the time was, and I would have been happy to see someone come up with a better time. What mattered to me was the feeling of having everything working in perfect harmony controlled by me and my effort for a positive conclusion. It is primarily because of that exercise that I have worked with whips for well over three decades now.

When you have to compete against others it is different from setting up the same course in your backyard, which I do have. Other people push you to be better, so when I discovered that my Speed Switch time was just over 11 seconds, I was proud. If I were doing the same exercise alone in my back yard, the time would have likely been a second or two slower, but because of the competition it pushes you to do better. So it was a better time because of the competitive environment.

In the scheme of things the time doesn’t matter much. Next year it will be forgotten just like last year’s Superbowl champions are often lost in time. But the thrill of the moment is in pushing yourself to achieve something you might not otherwise strive to do—and it makes you sharper, stronger, and generally better. After pushing your mind and body in these kinds of events, hot dogs taste better, soft drinks at a concession stand are sweeter, and the sun is always more brilliant. If the level of competition is of a better quality, it makes a win even better—not because the other guy lost but because you know they are good and the meaning has proportional value based on the strength of their talents.

Politically, when rules created through legislation, take away competition from any process, they help destroy it. When labor unions prevent such competition to the process of making a job better, they are destroying those jobs. Without competition, minds rot away and the thrill of becoming better is robbed from an otherwise curious mind. For me, a guy closer to age 50 than 40 there aren’t many chances to challenge myself. At this age, you are at the top of your game. If you have done things well in your life, you should be the father who knows best, you should be the top performer in your career, you should be a shining citizen in your community, your lawn should be beautiful, you should make good decisions because you have learned how to be the best possible person that you can be through years of trial and tribulation. But if the competition is taken away from you, then your mind starts to go and with it comes the edge that your maturity brings to the table of innovation and success.

Organizations where competition is removed from their processes are filled with corruption and apathy. When trophies are given for victory without a competition taking place the way collective bargaining agreements provide for union workers, sluggish behavior permeates the endeavor with a less than satisfactory resolution. In my life, I still look for ways to compete the way I did when I was young and still test myself not for my competitors but to keep myself in shape, and sharp and to feel that thrill of life of a task well done on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not about the other competitors only in that they tend to push you to be better just by their presence. Without that competition in our lives, human beings decay and wither away into complacency.

It is also important for those who are currently the best to help others become better by giving them a target to pursue. This is essentially the secret to parenting, but it is more broadly termed as “mentoring.” It is good for young people to chase after old people to become better than they are, because through competition, everyone becomes better. One generation should surpass the older one so innovation occurs. Young people always want to feel they did better than those who came before them, but for them to do that, it is the responsibility of the old to make it hard for the young.

During the Bullwhip Fast Draw contest this year David Crain won against me and when he did I couldn’t help but be happy for him. He was fast and when he discovered that he had hit the target first, he rejoiced not so much for the win, but because he thought it would be hard to beat me. So for him, a hot dog tasted better on Saturday because he won a hard-fought battle. It is my task to make it hard for other competitors, but it is also my job to be happy for those who win because innovation has taken place, and everything has become better.

If competition is not present, innovation stops and minds die. Anywhere that competition is lacking, this is the result—poor performance occurs. And when you get to an older age where opportunities for competition are no longer constantly on your radar—there is a tendency to decay. This is why I look forward to the bullwhip competitions each year at Annie Oakley. Bullwhips mean more to me than other things in my life, so there is something at risk when I compete lending gravity to the situation that might otherwise not be present.

In that regard I was very happy to get such a good time on the Speed Switch. It is hard, and when everything comes together like that, pride is the only emotion. I could have been down on myself for not doing very well on the Speed and Accuracy event, but instead I was able to get it together and come back like I do most things in my life. But the reason I learned to overcome things in other parts of my life are because I know I can—because through competition I have learned how and applied those same skills to solving sometimes ridiculously difficult problems. Before you can do that consistently it helps tremendously to push yourself on ground that you are familiar with—whether it is baking a pie, shooting a rifle, or cracking a whip—competition makes you a better person in virtually every category. You may not always win, but you will always become better—especially if you learn from those who do win often. There is a reason they do—and the way to achieve that same boon is to surpass them through innovation and technique.

After a few days of rest I am already looking forward to next year. It is one of those events that never fail to restore in me a hope for humanity because of the people involved and the nature of the competition and what everyone gets from it. I remember what the bullwhip competitions were like when they were done in Las Vegas with the Wild West Arts Club, but Gery Deer, who runs the Annie Oakley event wanted to improve on those, and he has. The Bullwhip Fast Draw was born out of that desire and new to this year was the Indiana Jones Quick Draw which was a lot of fun and very entertaining. The need to always get better is at the heart of innovation and those needs cannot be measured until competition draws them to the surface. I am happy with my performance in 2014 but already have my eye on 2015 and will change some of my approach to get better. And during that process everything else in my life will improve just as a by-product. It is for that reason that I am so happy for the Annie Oakley bullwhip competitions and all the wonderful experiences that have come from them over the years. There is contained within their simplicity a secret to youth which often dies in grown adults not because of age—but a lack of competition and a laziness to push themselves once they have mastered their own fates.

Rich Hoffman