Why Getting the Best Out of Your Opponent is Best for You

By Matt McNiel on June 20th 2023

2 min read

Checking in at 35,000 feet on my way to work The Next Big Thing event in Sioux Falls. I was pondering a question that I got asked by a young man in the Manila while doing my Asia U22 Tour seminars.

The young man asked me about playing defense in bowling, more specifically in title matches, and my thoughts on it. In my career I’ve seen it happen and I’ve also had it done to me personally a few times.

I remember growing up one of my idols was Jack Nicklaus. Not too many years ago I saw an interview where he said he always wanted to beat people at their best, and how anyone can beat someone at their worst. That interview really struck a chord with me and slowly began to become my philosophy going forward in my bowling life.

Even when I bowled for a living, I felt a much bigger sense of satisfaction and gratification from victories in which I was able to get the best out of my opponent and they in turn brought out the best in me. In the large picture, it’s really a win win for both of us, even though someone must be “runner up”. Every time someone gets the best out of you, they give you a huge benefit as an athlete that will pay dividends for years to come, so why hamper that, or purposely try to not allow that to happen?

It’s easy to beat people at their worst, and it’s never something I want for my opponents. I want their best and I want to be able to give them mine. I can say confidently that I really don’t remember the victories in which I won by a large margin, but I can recall with great fondness the ones where both myself and my opponent got the best out of each other, regardless of the outcome. Those experiences helped me grow immensely and become a better athlete. They really fulfilled me as a competitor.

In answering the young man, I told him about this philosophy, and it wrapped up with this statement. “I competed for the experience of being able to be the best version of myself for a small instance in time, and what a euphoric and exhilarating feeling that was. Pieces of ceramic, wood, and metal collect dust. Money spends, comes, and goes, but the experience, the feelings, the memories, those last a lifetime, and that’s what I competed for.”

When I truly realized to embrace that philosophy my bowling greatly improved, and competing became much more fulfilling. I guess this whole statement can be summed up by a simple message applicable to 99.9% of the Bowling population.

Live to bowl. Don’t bowl to live.