A father’s take on competition

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Courtesy David Walker

I have been a full-time professional bass angler since I was 33 years old. My profession is competitive fishing. My job is to compete.

My two daughters, Lilly and Olivia, have grown up watching me compete on professional fishing’s top circuits since they could walk.

In my early years as a father, I was initially concerned that exposing them to the extreme ups and downs of professional fishing at such a young age would deter them from competition altogether. After all, seeing the toll the competition of this sport can take on people up close and personal can be troubling.

Like other professional sports, pro fishing has been challenged with its own share of scandals, tragedies and public displays of disregard for sportsmanship.

I’m not casting stones, here either. Lord knows I’ve had my share of bad days on the water and not necessarily been in the best of moods afterwards, either.

I was reminded of this recently when Randy Haynes rolled up his rods and put his boat on the trailer early at the FLW Tour event that he was leading at Kentucky Lake. Apparently, Randy felt that if being boat-to-boat with another competitor casting at the same exact spot defined “competition” then he didn’t need to be a part of it. In all honesty, there was a part of me that understood his mindset in that heated moment.

When these things happen, it does become easy to blame competition as a whole. I’ve certainly read the comments on social media: Well, if those guys weren’t competing for such big sums of money, things like this wouldn’t happen – bad, bad competition.

I was contemplating all of this as I spent Father’s Day driving to the Mississippi River for the Elite Series event this week.

When my daughter Lilly expressed an interest in playing volleyball a few years ago, I remember being a bit apprehensive. I was worried that her perception of competition may have been lessened by what she had observed with competitive fishing. Pro fishing is very much an individual sport while volleyball is team sport.

I’m happy to say that Lilly’s serious pursuit of volleyball over the last few years has created a rather unique bond between us – that bond being competition.

Despite competition itself sometimes being labeled the bad guy, competition is universal, and I believe its positive aspects far outweigh the negatives.

Recently, Lilly and I have had many conversations about the core, healthy principles of competition: the pursuit of getting better at your craft; the discipline of practice; setting goals; the self-honesty of recognizing your weaknesses and working to correct those weaknesses; accepting responsibility for your mistakes; overcoming the fear of failure; managing your emotions when things don’t go well; humility; the sportsmanship of extending a hand of congratulations to the victor; and the overall growth of self-confidence that comes with the personal victories, whether they’re big or small.

While the proud father in me would like to claim credit for having a hand in teaching her these things, I have to admit it’s been a two-way street. When you’ve been in something as long as I have been in professional fishing, it’s easy to see only the things that are wrong – bad, bad competition.

Through our conversations, Lilly has helped me see my own competition in fishing with a fresh perspective. She has made me appreciate the fact that I get to hone the craft I love – fishing – against the absolute best anglers in the world. And sometimes the goal is not to win the whole entire tournament at one time, but just to be better at something today than you were yesterday.

In a unique way, Lilly and I help push each other in our respective pursuits. She pushes me to be a better fisherman, and I push her to a better volleyball player. It’s a special father-daughter relationship forged by – competition.