lisagarnersanta low

Guest blog by Dr. Lisa Garner Santa
Associate Professor of Flute, Texas Tech University

There have been many debates over the years regarding the value of competition. While I believe all can be approached in respect to balance and moderation, I do think we, and our students, have a great deal to learn from competition. The aspect of competition I seem to hear most about is the motivation factor. No doubt, competition can motivate. But I think there is an aspect that is even more important: Competition offers opportunities for building resilience. As harsh as it may sound, people are going to be compared to others throughout their lifetime – in regard to job placement/promotion, relationships, creative output, and socio-economic circles. I hesitate to label this good or bad…it just is. It is however, the personal reactions to these comparisons, which can determine the individual’s sense of self-worth, confidence, and ability to experience joy in living.

We reward and praise students for “winning,” for “being the best.” And there’s nothing bad about that either…that praise is absolutely worthy, and certainly powerful if the student exerted effort toward that end. But don’t forget to praise the students who get back up and try again and again after “losing.” We must teach that effort and resilience are what promote the greatest progress and success, even for the most gifted students. Losing is an important aspect of that learning. If you haven’t lost a competition yet, consider seeking bigger competitions.

My most successful (in terms of competitions) students are those who lost many times, but did not give up. They kept entering competitions knowing that adjudication panels are often fickle, that sometimes you just have a bad day, that sometimes you get the honor of “losing” to the next super-star, and knowing that a personal best doesn’t always mean best overall. They were motivated by the competitions, of course. But the outcome did not define them. They were gracious when they lost, and gracious when they won…because they knew on a different day, perhaps with a different panel or a different set of competitors, they may not have won.

The only way to learn how to get back up after you fall is to fall. In the grand scheme of things, competitions are a safe place to do this and can prepare many for much greater challenges in life…like losing your home to fire, having your largest investment go belly up, surviving a failed relationship or losing the life of a dear one.

One of my spiritual teachers taught, “Don’t worry about being the best. Concern yourself with being really good.” At first I was like, “huh?” Being the best is what it’s all about here in Texas. But what if I focused on being a really good (in every sense of the word) flutist…what would that mean? It just might produce “winning” results and bring some peace along with it.

Lisa Garner Santa currently serves as Artist-Performer and Associate Professor of Flute at Texas Tech University where she enjoys a diverse career as teacher, recitalist, soloist, and chamber musician. Her recordings and performances receive rave reviews. As an active member of the National Flute Association, Dr. Garner Santa has been a featured performer at the Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Nashville, and Kansas City conventions. As a pedagogue, Lisa Garner Santa presents masterclasses throughout the United States and abroad.

Learn more about Dr. Garner Santa at

Music for All thanks Dr. Garner Santa for permission to share this thoughtful essay.