By Justin Dixon

Respect can be a difficult thing to actually describe. If you take a literal interpretation it means to offer an individual, a place, or even a thing, a positive feeling of esteem or deference and then conveying this feeling in certain actions, words, or gestures. But where does it fit in on the mat or maybe, more importantly, in a competition? Does respecting your opponent in a match really provide you – or the other competitor – with anything of worth?

Most definitely!

What then?

A military general from antiquity might well have pondered that not to show respect to your enemy courts danger and thereby the possibility of defeat…

A clue here?

As a competitor you have some choices on how you regard your opponent. You can purely regard them as an obstacle you have to overcome – this could be called a neutral approach. You can view them with some measure of disdain and try to use this to fuel your performance. This could be termed a negative approach. Or, you could view them as a fellow competitor who has, as you have done, entered the competition to test their skill and try to win. We can call this a positive approach – a respectful approach, if you want.

Can you discern a pattern here?

If you adopt a neutral approach you run the risk of being under aroused – of not really focusing on what the other opponent has to offer in terms of their performance. The neutral approach doesn’t really have a place in top level competition because the competitors will certainly be aware of what the others can do, and should have prepared accordingly with some form of match plan that works to their best advantage when competing against a known fighter with a certain set of skills.

The negative approach is the one that rewards you the least.

A positive approach may help get you into the zone you need to be in to effectively perform but we are trying to respect our opponent, not be in awe of them, and there is a big difference. You can respect another competitor but also be able to take the fight to them following your strategy and using your game plan.

Remember they entered the competition just as you did which means they want to get on the mat and test themselves. The fact they have done this should get some acknowledgement.

If we take a quick look at MMA and boxing, sometimes before a big event the two fighters concerned will begin a ‘trash talking’ dialogue, using media moments to disrespect each other, sometimes using really strong derogatory and inflammatory language. Why do they do this?

Three reasons spring to mind;

1) They genuinely do dislike each other and are using the media to telegraph their mutual dislike.

2) They are trying to gain an advantage by seeking to upset or off-centre their opponent.

3) They are engaging in a mutually agreed ‘hype’ process to stimulate interest and thereby increase monetary profit from the fight.

Or it could be a combination of all three…

Each of the three reasons diminishes the integrity of the fight and ultimately of the fighters themselves. When we talk about or discuss respect in this context we are also talking about integrity. Integrity and respect are closely interlinked with each other. Integrity is a quality of character – you might call integrity the modern version of honour which ultimately means you are a person of your word – if you say you will do something then you will. Someone that freely gives respect to another, based upon their judgment and appraisal, I would argue tends to have a healthy amount of integrity.

Issues in a sporting context of respect and integrity are part of a wider realm of ethics in sport. Fair play and following the rules are important if we as competitors are to retain our integrity, which is a measure of how we regard ourselves and want others to regard us. Winning is important as it’s one of the reasons why anybody enters any type of sporting competition, but should we aim to win at any cost? I would rather win fairly and squarely than by using spurious methods to increase my chances of winning, because if I win or lose fairly I maintain my integrity and that is as important to me as actually winning.

This view is not shared by everybody involved in high stakes sporting competition especially when that competition blurs into business, as we see in professional sport. Other athletes and coaches in other sports view winning as the only goal and will use any method -including those outside of the established rules – to win. Whilst they might win, they ultimately lose their integrity and if found out will lose most, if not all, of the respect and esteem they may have held before.

What sort of competitor are you?

One with integrity?

Or one who would win at any cost?

And if you are the latter are you truly comfortable with that?

Photo by Svein Olaf Bennæs
Photo by Svein Olaf Bennæs