What is Agon?
Agon is a year-round competitive swimming team that is a member club of USA Swimming and United States Masters Swimming. We offer instruction/training to a wide range of ages and ability levels. Whether youth or adult, we provide coaching with the objective of positively influencing the lives of our members.
Agon is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization located in Ellettsville, Indiana, where we serve this and surrounding communities.
What does Agon mean?
Sport was an important part of society in ancient Greece. Sport was part of a larger culture of self-actualization, or the idea that people can and should strive to be the best that they are capable of becoming. It was even argued that there existed no higher purpose than to fully develop our potential.
We see similar views towards the importance of self-actualization in more recent work of Abraham Maslow, who proposed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Topping his hierarchy as the highest of human needs is self-actualization. Maslow would described self-actualization this way:
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization… It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
In ancient Greece, this was the philosophy of Arete. Arete could be translated to mean excellence, although it could also be roughly translated to mean reaching your highest human potential. Interestingly, this excellence that the Greeks pursued was an ideal, one that they recognized could not be attained.
A culture that values the pursuit of excellence while recognizing it is unattainable tells us something. It tells us that that the Greeks recognized and valued the transformative power of the pursuit, of the struggle towards excellence. This struggle is what they called "agon."
Nietzsche would later say about the Greeks that they produced themselves through struggle, that their teaching depended on it.
Plato ascribes the following quote to Protagoras as he explains his educational philosophy to a young Hippocrates:
“Young man, you will gain this by coming to my classes, that on the day when you join them you will go home a better man, and on the day after it will be the same; every day you will constantly improve more and more.”
As a team, we hope to be able to say the same thing, that every day our athletes will have an opportunity to improve. And to do so, we will encourage them to embrace the struggle of their endeavors as a source of growth.
So what is agon? Agon is the struggle that is inherent in the pursuit of excellence. To learn why we embrace it and how we believe that in the process of becoming better athletes we can lead more fulfilling lives, read more about our team and our mission below.
In the struggle lies our triumph
To facilitate human flourishing through the pursuit of athletic excellence
Athletics have the capacity to have a profound impact on its participants. Our mission is essentially to help our athletes lead more fulfilling lives through athletics. A fundamental belief of our program is that the pursuit of athletic excellence is essential in order to recognize the potential of sport to change lives. Our mission has been influenced by the research of Dr. Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that explores what makes life worth living and seeks to build the enabling conditions of such a life. Dr. Seligman asserts that there are five elements that contribute to well-being: positive emotion, engagement, accomplishment, positive relationships, and meaning. We believe that the pursuit of excellence is essential to recognizing the full potential of sport, because through the pursuit of excellence we can maximize the five elements that contribute to a life of flourishing.
1. Positive Emotion – what we feel
For the well-directed athlete, athletics provide an abundance of opportunities for a myriad of positive emotions. One example is the feeling of joy when an athlete achieves a success or accomplishes a goal. However, for the athlete willing to pursue excellence, more is possible. We encourage our athletes to transcend the ephemeral joy of victory and to find joy in the more consistent struggle of their worthy pursuits. Hence the importance of the pursuit of excellence as it provides the struggle that becomes our joy.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”
– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
2. Engagement – flow
Flow is essentially complete absorption in what one is doing. In athletics it is often referred to as “being in the zone.” Those in flow lose their sense of self because their attention is wholly invested in the challenge at hand. However, the skill of the participant must be satisfactory to meet the challenge. The pursuit of athletic excellence involves constantly striving for newer and greater accomplishments through a constant commitment to preparation. In this way, the pursuit of excellence provides the necessary elements (challenge and skill) for flow experiences and creates an environment where they are more likely to occur.
“The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy—or attention—is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives. A person who has achieved control over psychic energy and has invested it in consciously chosen goals cannot help but grow into a more complex being. By stretching skills, by reaching toward higher challenges, such a person becomes an increasingly extraordinary individual.”
– Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow
3. Accomplishment – achievement
In athletics, achievement is usually thought of as winning a competition, improving on a performance, demonstrating a new skill, or the like. The danger with this view of accomplishment is that it can lead to a sense of discontent among athletes. With each accomplishment there will always be a new and greater challenge to pursue, and as such, a sense of satisfaction may continue to elude the athlete. Here again, our focus on the process of striving towards excellence provides the answer. We encourage our athletes to consider a broader view of accomplishment, one in which they learn to view their daily striving as an accomplishment in itself.
“It doesn’t matter whether you win gold medals. What matters is that you strive to be your best and then struggle to be even better.”
– Nadia Comaneci, Letters to a Young Gymnast
4. Positive Relationships – camaraderie
It is in challenging times, when we depend on the strength of others, that camaraderie is born. Our pursuit of excellence provides the challenge and the necessity to rely on teammates that stimulates the creation of positive relationships. Additionally, we encourage our athletes to take a personal responsibility for the performances of their teammates. Only a team that works together can hope to reach their full potential even as individuals. As they learn this truth, and learn to both rely on and support each other, they will open themselves up to the possibility of connecting with others on a level that is rarely seen.
“Friends are people to lean on, and they’re people to be strong for. When servicemen and -women talk about the extraordinary camaraderie of serving and the tight-knit teams they served with, they know that such closeness, while punctuated by times of great fun and even joy, was forged in the fires of difficulty. They drew strength from knowing that they were together when lives were on the line.”
– Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life
5. Meaning – belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self
By encouraging athletes to take a personal responsibility for the performances of their teammates, we are helping them to serve something that is bigger than the self – the team. Beyond that however, the pursuit of excellence that is so fundamental to our program, provides an opportunity for our athletes to add meaning to their lives.
“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified, and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.”
– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Through our shared pursuit of excellence, our athletes have an opportunity to achieve their potential in athletics, but more importantly, they have an opportunity to experience the full potential of life… a fulfilling and meaningful life… a life worth living… a life of flourishing.
Our Logo: The Rock
Our logo is inspired by Camus’ philosophical work, The Myth of Sisyphus. As the Greek mythological story goes, Sisyphus was condemned for eternity to roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to watch it roll back down.
When Camus reimagines the story, he describes a character who finds success through his struggle. As Camus concludes, “the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s soul. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
The Greek word eudaimonia is often translated to mean happiness or human flourishing. The later being more accurate and perhaps the happiness Camus is referring to. This is not the ephemeral happiness we generally think of, not a state of mind or emotion that changes with recent events. To Aristotle and the Greeks, eudaimonia was measured by how well an individual had lived life to their potential.
Interpreted in this way, Camus is advocating embracing struggle in order to live a fulfilling life. Similarly, our program aims to use the struggle inherent in the pursuit of athletic excellence to facilitate human flourishing. We encourage our members to embrace that struggle because it provides all the elements that contribute to well-being (see mission statement). As such, we have chosen to use images from The Myth of Sisyphus in our logo to represent Camus’ message and our mission.
The “O” in AGON has been filled in to represent Sisyphus’ rock and we have placed it on a slope representing his mountain. The black background shows us “skyless space and time without depth,” and we have left the rock part way up the mountain, reminding us that Sisyphus continues his struggle. As Camus tells us, he is “still on the go. The rock is still rolling.”