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An alternative meaning to excellence

December 9, 2010

In his “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”, Professor LaVaque-Manty talks a lot about the “relatively straightforward” and “reasonably clear measures” of excellence.  He goes on to discuss how not everyone plays sports to try to for excellence, but that people play for recreation.  Is this to assume that playing for “health, to raise funds for a charity, to have fun with friends” is not in their own ways altered versions of excellence? What is excellence? I believe it is in the eye of the beholder.

If put on the spot to think of an immediate definition, one will most likely think of excellence as possessing a skill.  I will argue that it can have a more general meaning.  Just as each person defines what he or she believes to be beautiful, I think people have the ability to define what excellence means to them.

Regarding sports, as Professor LaVaque-Manty mentions, there are many different levels.  There is intramural, high school, college, and professional. Each of these levels mean different things to different people. For a child, intramural sports can mean a way of making new friends.  High school sports can be an activity to take up time.  College sports can be one person’s only way of paying for an education.  Finally, professional sports can be simply a way of making money.  One definition of excellence says, “an action, characteristic, feature, etc, in which a person excels” (  Excelling at something can mean a high level of achievement at what one is intending to do.  Therefore, excellence at each of these levels can simply mean achieving the desired result of why a person is playing the sport. If a child sets out to play a sport to make friends and actually makes many new friends, doesn’t that mean he is excelling? Furthermore, if he is excelling then he is experiencing excellence.

It seems to me that the media puts pressure on society to look at rankings.  As is evident, exceptional skill is not the only form of excellence. One question remains: how can we get others to see that excellence does not only apply to physical skill?



  1. Shauna Sitarek permalink
    December 9, 2010 10:53 PM

    This is a very nice post. I think you bring up a great point and you do an even better job of explaining it. I agree that excellence is definitely in the eyes of the beholder like you mentioned, but I have a question for you, (or anyone who cares to answer) if someone puts forth a lot of time and effort and they truly care about doing the best that they can at a task, would you call their results excellent? For example, when a sport team looses, but they play with a lot of heart and they did all that they could to win the game, many spectators would say that even thought the team lost they played excellent. So do the results of a task actually matter, or does it mostly reside in how hard the person trying to complete the task works? Or possibly both?

  2. jjkn09 permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:05 PM

    To answer Shauna’s question, I believe that excellence is not limited to the results of a task. Excellence can be found in effort, skill, integrity and in many other aspects. Despite the actual results of a task, excellence can be attained and recognized in one’s hard work and dedication. Excellence does not have to simply mean achieving one’s desired results – it can lie in the means of attaining that result. If Kobe Bryant was the best scorer in the NBA and always made the most points for his team but never went to any of his practices or work as hard as his other team mate, can he still be deemed excellent? What about the player who does not score as often but went to every practice and played his heart on the court? Does he still exhibit excellence?

  3. ann900 permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:16 PM

    I really like this post because it is not acknowledged enough that excellence means different things to different people. To some, it’s doing their best; but to others, they have to win in order to consider themselves successful. In discussion my GSI turned the conversation to the athletes, asking them what their definition of excellence would be. Although I think it is known in the class that I am an athlete I didn’t say anything, because all the people who had talked before me said things along the lines of it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you tried your best and it was a group effort. I chose not to give my opinion because it is very different from everyone else’s. I grew up in a competitive family. Your best was always accepted and appreciated, but we all knew that winning was the goal. Winning was what really mattered, because that was what we worked for. We did not work to “give our best”, we worked to be the best. But I think that one’s ability to realize their own personal “excellence” but also except those of others is what makes a team and a community work.

  4. eghat2 permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:22 PM

    This is a very interesting post. When reading the blog post, I tried to think of my own understanding of excellence, and as I understand it, excellence is (as you wrote) “a high level of achievement at what one is intending to do.” However, I think that the ‘what’ should be very specific.
    For example, in sports, excellence is generally considered as playing a great game, or being the winning team. When one considers such examples as playing a game in order to raise money, I believe excellence is involved, however it is involved in a different way. The thing that those involved are trying to do is raise money, and so if a lot of money is raised, it can be said that they were “excellent”. Yet, this is not to say that the game was played in an excellent manner. It could have been technically terrible, according to the standards of good basketball, for example, yet those involved are still excellent in the sense of doing what they set out to do, that being raise money.
    In the same way, I can offer a response to Shauna’s question. If a team had the goal of trying their best and putting their heart into a game, then they could be excellent at just that. Yet, this does not mean that the game played was excellently, or that they are an excellent team based on their skills. They ARE an excellent team for their effort.

  5. Sebastian S. permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:44 PM

    You make some interesting points. I agree that excellence does not only encompass physical ability, but also includes mental mindset. I also agree with the different assessments of excellence; if a child is playing a sport for simply making new friends, but is not very good at that sport, as long as he/she meets their goal of making new friends, they are excelling. I wouldn’t say that they excel at that particular sport; instead they (mentally) excel at setting goals and completing them. After reading this post, I was reminded of the article about the oldest living Lions’ season ticket holder. 86-year-old Willie Stone has been a season ticket holder for 60 years. As the first line of the article says, “If you thought watching the Lions the past 10 years has been bad, try doing it for the last 60.” Even though the Lions have had some rough years, including their 0-16 season, their fans have stuck by them. So, are the Lions an excellent football team? There are many who would argue that the Lions are the worst team in the NFL, however, Willie Stone and countless other fans would argue otherwise. The article I mentioned can be found here:

  6. seangordon permalink
    December 10, 2010 1:57 AM

    I like your points here. However, I wonder if there is no standard term of excellence, then how can we ever measure ourselves up to others? Do we have to? I’m not sure how there can be equal or fair competition if a term like excellence is not clearly defined.

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