King of the Hill

When I was young, all we would need was a mound of snow, and more than one kid, and the battle was on.
Call it what you will, King of the Hill, King of the Mountain, KIng of the Castle. It is all the same thing – get on top of that hill, and stay there – using any tricks at our disposal: Pushing, pulling, dragging – eventually working up to clawing, pulling, gouging, etc. Until the moment comes where one of us could stand atop the mountain, with arms reaching for the sky and declare to all challengers, “I’m King of the Hill!”
It didn’t have to be snow, dirt would suffice as well.
And for really aggressive games, you could do as my EC and her friends did, and use the playground equipment.
Eventually, playing King of the Hill on a mound of snow, or a hill of dirt faded away, and was replaced by other versions of the same game. We now refer to them as sports, competitions, contests, etc. As parents, we have successfully passed on the great King of the Hill tradition to our children, and poured kerosine on it.
Don’t believe me?  Kids still play King of the Hill on a regular basis, only now it is forbidden during recess, and frowned upon by a more tolerant society.  We now gravitate towards more organized versions of the same game. Today the game now requires cleats, and shinguards, and referees, and coaches, etc.
King of the Hill is now a family event, where parents spend their days sitting in folding camp chairs watching to see if their little Kings and Queens will vanquish the foe. Sometimes 2, 3, 4, 5 nights a week, and Saturdays too. This hill conquering is serious business, costing $80, $100, $1000 a season. Why? Not only do we want our kids to be able to get really good at climbing the hill, we want them to climb really good hills – not just little fun, neighborly hills.
In fact, some parents are so invested in the game that they become different people -they “check their religion at the door,” when they arrive to yell at the referees, criticize the coaches, and shout and berate their little kings.  Thankfull{, other parents are much more passive, but deep down inside, every parent, every coach, every kid wants to emerge victorious. To be King of the Hill.
How do I know? Been there, done that, still there, still doing that.
I played as a kid, I have coached 12 seasons of soccer and basketball, and I have spent enough time on bleachers that even hard church pews feel like heaven. At all levels – player, coach, and parent, – I wanted to win. That was the goal.  Sure, we would say ridiculous things like “We are here to have fun,” but it was with a wink, because we all know that it is much more fun to stand victorious, than to be lying in a heap at the base of the mountain.
Being King of the Hill can be time consuming. Especially if you want to play on the really big hills – or hope that one day your little one will eventually get paid for playing – because we know that happens to most of our kids. Sometimes you might have to sacrifice to play at that level. Every so often, you might need to forgo Mutual, scout camp, girls camp, service projects, and for some, Sunday meetings, or even that full-time mission. But hey, it is tough out there – you have to be committed if you hope to win!
That is reality. Sorry if you were unaware.
Eventually the sports, music and forensic competitions, spelling bees, geography bees, academic decathlons all give way to more grown up versions of the game. SAT and ACT scores, college acceptance, GPA, grad school, law school, college rivalries (Go Cougars).
King of the Hill follows us through college and beyond by the things we choose: Career, spouse, neighborhood, house, car, vacations, clothes, toys, and of course, the chili cook-off.  Same game, same desire to win. And by win, I mean to be superior to those lower on the hill.
King of the Hill continues to be part of my life. Don’t believe me? How many of you cheered for a college or pro football team, or a baseball team this weekend? By the way, that team that you are so invested in, that you cheer for, sweat for, stress for – that team that is completely unaware that you even exist.  Why do we embrace them?  Because if they win, we win by association, and stand victorious on our own little mound of snow – as they pop the champagne corks.
We like winners. We like to win. And for there to be winners, we just have to accept the fact that there are losers. Such is life.
I don’t know if it is a matter of age, or a subtle change in my thinking, but I am not nearly as invested in sports as I used to be. I used to follow college football and the NBA faithfully. Now, I will watch an occasional game, but rarely more than one in a given week.
Why?  I’m not sure – I guess it is apathy.  I don’t really care who is in the World Series anymore. I don’t care who is in the running for the BCS this year.  It just doesn’t matter to me – because it has absolutely no bearing on my life – unless I choose to let it – and I have enough reality to deal with. Fantasy football? You’ve gotta be kidding me.
I support my kids in their sports, but I’m much less invested than I used to be. And by invested I mean that I rarely yell at the ref’s anymore. (Rarely – not never.) 
There is one thing that seems to pester my soul more and more about King of the Hill. The very concept of that game, and the versions we continue to play are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That game is in opposition to all that Christ stands for.
Does the spirit of competitiveness belong in the heart of a saint? (Sincere question.)
Where the goal of King of the Hill is to be the lone person standing atop the mountain, the goal of the Gospel is to pull as many people up to the top of the mountain as you possibly can while here on earth.
We already know who is standing atop the mountain: God our Father, and His Son Jesus Christ. And their goal? To lift us to join them, to stand atop the mountain with them.
“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Moses 1:39
God’s work and glory is for us to stand atop the mountain with Him. Could anything seem more intuitive? Imagine looking at your children and saying to yourself “Kids, I hope you do well in life, but not quite as well as I’ve done.”
God has charged us to help with his work – to lift and strengthen others – to help them up to the top of the hill. But to lift someone else to a higher place, we must first have firm footing at that higher level. You can’t lift someone when you are below them.  Sure, you can push, and shove, and shout, but you cannot lift.
“The purpose of both spiritual and temporal self-reliance is to get ourselves on higher ground so that we can lift others in need.”  Elder Robert D. Hales
“You must stand on higher ground so that you can lift others.” President Gordon B. Hinckley
The goal is not to stand alone atop the mountain! It is not to defeat others! It is to stand with as many will come with us. Standing alone is not success – nor is it possible. Flaunting our superiority is anything but Christlike. When we tear others down, we do not stand any higher. (Which is one reason why I am so ready for this election to be over.)
And yet, we keep playing our own versions of King of the Hill, and and teach our children how to play it even better than we do.  Meanwhile, the adversary must be a very content fan.

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    1. Exactly: That’s why I disagree with your point that you have to experience something bad in order to “eventually evolve to the realization” that what you have been doing is wrong.

    2. I didn’t say you HAD to experience it. I think competition servers its purpose.
      Maybe you don’t have to experience bad things to learn…but some people do. Some people humble themselves, some people are humbled by the Lord.
      I remember sitting by 2 former Stake Presidents at church basketball games. One didn’t like the negative aspect of competition. The other enjoyed watching kids develop talents and the positive aspects of competition. All season long they had the same arguments. My favorite was, “If the Lord didn’t want kids to play basketball, he wouldn’t put hoops in the church.”
      I think that the way you wrote you post shows how we can evolve through competition. Ending up helping as many people as we can as we reach toward Christ.

  1. If you think about it, competition is the way we learn the principles you are talking about. First, we learn to work hard. Next we learn how to be winners or losers. We observe how our actions affect others, good or bad. We make changes. We improve and eventually evolve to the realization that winning or losing a game or competition doesn’t matter. What matters is the Gospel.
    I submit,competition is essential to The Plan. And is to be used for personal growth toward Eternal life.

    1. 1) You can learn to work hard in a non-competetive environment.
      2) You don’t have to drink alcohol to learn that is bad for you.

      I submit that competition is counter to The Plan.

  2. Reading this early in the morning and it really helps to put a lot of things in perspective. I especially feel guilty because the other day my daughter won first place in her school’s costume party and I was more excited than her. I felt like doing a victory dance and pointing to everyone else! Sorry living through her, I never won in school! But so true, we need to be wanting to be on top of that hill to then be able to help others up there too!

  3. Amen. It’s a fine line between healthy ambition and prideful competition — and one that’s really, really easy to slide right past. A fine line between hoping your kid does well and hoping the other kid does poorly. It would be nice if we could really have sports without competition, but I’m not sure how to make that work in the real world.

  4. We need to think of ourselves as the prize (and often reluctant participant) in the grand, eternal King of the Mountain Game. On one side there is Satan trying to grasp that last bit of toenail in an attempt to pull me down. On the other, the Father and the Savior firmly grasp my hands to pull me to safety atop the mountain, overlooking their vast kingdoms. Who will win the prize of my soul and allegiance throughout eternity? I’m not the King of the Mountain but I sure want to be on his team when the final whistle blows.

  5. Great post.
    I can’t stand it when a team prays to win at the beginning of a game. I’m pretty sure God couldn’t care less. As far as praying that no one will get hurt, that’s okay.
    I remember hearing a story from our stake president about a baseball team that went to the regional competitions. The coaches were priesthood holders and during the time they were there, they heard that there was a Mormon boy among the many kids there who was severely ill and requesting a blessing. They administered to him and his condition immediately improved. It just so happened that their team went to the championship game and that boy was on the opposing team. He was their star player and because he was well, this team lost the game and the championship.
    Did the coaches let down their team by helping this kid–who in the context of the game was essentially their enemy? No. By using their priesthood to bless him, his faith was probably strengthened, and in that way those coaches pulled him (and perhaps others who witnessed the miracle) up to the top of the only hill that matters.

  6. Continuous improvement doesn’t necessitate a “loser.” It is SELF-improvement and is an individual battle. (For example a marathoner who is running for their personal best, yet comes in 453rd place.)

    Whereas ALL competition depends on a comparison to someone else. (If that marathoner talks trash to the 454th place finisher, then he missed the point.)

    1. And making sure the girl running behind you doesn’t beat you in the 5K is much more motivating than a personal best. I know from experience.

  7. So where do you draw the line at continuous improvement (a gospel principle) and unhealthy competition? Is it all about the underlying motivation?

  8. It is so fun when you point out something seemingly complex in the world in a very simple way that puts it into a new perspective.

    Obviously the competitive drive and desire to do better and bigger and win is part of the whole human psyche and natural man, and has such benefits as the will to survive, beat the other clan leader, become the head of the brute squad, etc. It is important I think in the evolution of man, and part of man’s inborn traits to discover and improve. Being able to win and to exert control over your environment are important attitudes in a hard worker, who desires results, good grades, and is not satisfied with the same efforts in daily tasks, but wants to improve and make life better. New discoveries and invention stem from competitive drive and dissatisfaction with the status quo.

    Unfortunately this results in lack of gratitude and appreciation for the normal, the usual, the boring everyday, which may include our families, our homes, our cars.

    When we solely give in to these parts of ourselves we are an enemy to God, right? The real question seems to be how to be successful in this world of natural men and be Christlike, keeping Him within us at all times.

    It reminds me of how Joseph Smith was a terrible businessman, giving his goods to the poor, giving up his bed and everything he had to the poor and the sick.

    How can we be truly like the Savior without living the law of consecration? How do we teach our kids to “play the game” of life and school and career and alienate them from sports and video games and competition in general? Of course that is not our goal, to eliminate competition for our children, and friendly competition is fun and exhilarating. It can also be quickly ruined by a few people (church sports anyone?) and sometimes participating in sports at any level can seems like a complete spiritual contradiction.

    When I think of athletes and successfully competitive people, I immediately think of some members of the church I went to school with or that I know through church. These were the Young Men playing King of the Mountain instead of doing drugs in high school. These kinds of events can be excellent grounds for sharing the gospel. Numerous examples spring to mind.

    The teams I have been a part of that were fair and fostered good sportsmanship and treated opponents with respect and appreciation almost seem like gems of good luck and I wonder how I can find that same kind of good luck for my own kids as the inevitably participate in teams of one kind or another.

    My apologies for the length. I’m a talker.


  9. This makes me think of the book “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli. The main character becomes a school cheerleader but wants to cheer for everyone and can’t understand why that drives everyone else crazy. There’s far more to the story than that- it’s worth a read. Stargirl is very different from everyone else, but a character we could all learn a few lessons from.

  10. Coming from the queen of competition, I again am called to repentance.

    I will refrain from posting and gloating my weekly fantasy football wins.

  11. Thank you for writing good and funny things. My husband discovered your blog and he really likes funny things. I’m glad he can read funny things that are also good. We have felt the spirit when we have read your blog as well as laughed. It is nice to know there are good influences out there that are also entertaining. 🙂 Thanks again.

  12. First off, you’ve heard of forensics competitions??????????? You’re even cooler now.
    Second off, I agree with what you’ve said here. When I used to play games in seminary, I would get very competitive, as did most of the class. So when a team won, it dissolved into trashtalking on both sides (“Haha we won!” “You cheated” etc.) It just got frustrating after awhile.

  13. I have always hated competition. I hate the feelings it causes and the tension that ensues. In a twisted way, I guess that makes me a little competitive too, because *aren’t I better because I don’t compete???* (I don’t usually feel that way, I am just big into conflict avoidance. If you let the other guy win, he also wins the burdens that go with whatever he won…)

  14. I think an even better version of King of the Hill would be Kings of the Hill, and see how many people you can get to stay on top of the mountain! That would be even trickier than trying to stay on top by yourself.

  15. Forwarded this to Beloved, athlete-in-remission and father of three who played football in high school. After nine months of marriage, I can now sit through a Packers game without twitching. Maybe because the Packers are owned by their fans (as well as vice versa?) And, like you, so tired of political campaigns. Ick. Just, ick.

  16. In Primary today a sister was telling some kids why her family was recently gone one week – they traveled out of town to see a Utah State Aggies game. Two different kids in my wife’s CTR 5 class starting talking smack about the Aggies, how they sucked, BYU was better, and if it wasn’t BYU it wasn’t worth it. I’m all for some friendly competition, but this king-of-the-hill attitude is a little too much for me, especially at such a young age.

    1. MMM, may I comment? In one of the Primaries in our stake, they hand out CTR shields for the kids to wear around their necks, every Sunday. The Presidency randomly hands out stickers for kids being “good”. After subbing several times during the year for various classes, most of the kids spend their hour in Sharing time comparing how many stickers they get. I’ve heard so many “I’ve got 8! Well, I’ve got 9 so I’m better than you!” that it makes me sick. Meanwhile the shy and quiet child with 4 stickers sinks farther down in his seat. What is wrong with this picture?

  17. If you’re going to be competitive, compete against yourself. Then you won’t have to settle for being the best person because you will be the best you.

  18. So very thought-provoking. I have even been apalled by how some members of the church are so invested in this Presidential campaign that they are becoming totally nasty. I actually had to block some people from my ward from my Facebook page this weekend because I didn’t want to read their very mean-spirited, disprectful name-calling and negativity any more. America will go on even if “our guy” doesn’t win. Hopefully, we will all do more than think about what you have said here and in politics, sports and all aspects of life, be less competitive and more loving, kind and willing to reach out and lift others.

  19. Trying to see how many you can fit on your mountain sounds like so much more fun that pushing everyone off. Rather like the tiny car with 20 clowns pouring out of it at the circus. Sooo much fun!

    1. As I read Barbara’s comment (and before looking at the name) I had the thought, “I bet this is a woman making this comment.”

      Not at all trying to poke at Barbara or women, but I wonder if men are more compeditive than women? Or is it more that we have different “hills” we think are valuable?

      I can tell you that having a spotless house is WAY WAY more important to my wonderful EC than it is to me. On the other hand, I have things that are important to me that my EC could care less about.

      Just an interesting thought (no gender bashing intended)

      A Happy Hubby

  20. And this post comes the day after I finally won the ward costume contest while my wife won the chili cookoff. At least my EC is willing to share her recipe 🙂

    1. I actually wasn’t implying anything about your EC or her recipe. I juist meant that although we are enjoying the victory, we’re happy to let others partake of the goodness that is her Ghost Chili.

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