Ham Radio Contesting (a.k.a. RadioSport) is an interesting aspect of Ham Radio. Some hams despise it and object to the use of "their frequencies" by contesters who turn otherwise quiet bands into Ham Radio rush hour. Others see contests as an opportunity to work on awards like "Worked All States" or add countries to their DXCC totals. Finally there are the contesters themselves.
I am a contester. I do my best to be courteous to other users of the ham bands, avoid causing QRM but when I contest, I contest for a reason.
- I contest to have fun! This is rule #1 for me - if it isn't fun, don't do it. For me the fun element comes from the satisfaction of doing something I like, doing it well and striving for improvement/proficiency. Contesting lends itself to metrics - number of contacts/hour, number of points or multipliers, number of band changes... Modern contest logging software provides many of these metrics automatically - others require using additional simple tools for analysis.
I can fulfill this reason without making an all out effort to participate in a given contest. I get on the air, provide some points to others who are making an all out effort and send in my log. Like the chicken, I made a contribution.
- I contest to evaluate changes or improvements. Although propagation conditions vary, I can contest to evaluate changes I make to my station (antennas, power level, reduction in local noise sources etc) as well as changes to my strategy. Strategy may be choice of bands by time, how much time I spend running a frequency versus looking for multipliers, which directions do I chose to look for contacts etc. Much like the first reason, I can often do this without making an all out effort.
- I contest to improve. Yes, this is a by-product of reason #1 but it is often THE goal for me. After each contest I think about what I did and how I did it. I try to take the time to write this down so that when I get ready for the next contest (especially the next running of the same contest), I can review what I did and consider the things which I thought at the time went well or were first class mistakes. Some of these mistakes are comical; I blew a very good score on one contest when I forgot that I had reversed the direction of my SteppIR during a run of JA's to answer a slew of South American stations that called me - and then forgot to switch back to the normal direction before taking a rest break. After the break, the bands were SO dead - doh! Beaming in the wrong direction will do that to you! Now I have a big red REVERSED label on my SteppIR control software.
- I contest to WIN. With few exceptions, for me this means winning as part of a team. While by no-means is my home station a "little pistol", I have a single tower, a dipole and a vertical. Without some stacks, gain antennas on the low bands, I'm competitive but an unlikely winner especially when folks are looking to qualify for the next WRTC. SO2R is on my to-do list together with adding a couple more antennas - that still won't make a WRTC contender.
But as part of a COMMITTED team, I can and do win. Just like the pig providing the bacon, a commitment to be part of a team means making an all out effort with all the skill and operating hours I can muster. Commitment means keeping one's butt in the chair, making the right choice for band changes, running time versus search and pounce, minimizing bio-breaks and distractions as well as grinding though the slow and dreary times of the contest.
Maintaining the concentration and operating time requires another element less obvious to the typical ham operator - physical fitness. Young or old, physical fitness is not a given. It requires attention to diet, weight control and physical exercise. While disease and injury play a role as we get older, most of us at any age can do things to improve or maintain our health.
Contesting to win is not for sissies. Keeping your butt in the chair and maintaining concentration for the entire contest takes work - especially if your fellow team members are counting on you for a decent score.
Therein hangs the rub. Considering the reasons for contesting, do all the members of the team take part with the SAME REASON as THEIR dominant reason when they agreed to take part?
In my experience, the larger the team, the less likely that all team members have the same reason in mind. Some contest categories even reinforce (exist because of?) this dynamic. When the goal is to simply play the law of large numbers and get as many people to participate as possible, the typical ham makes a contribution, not a commitment.
Taking part is a fair decision - so long as everyone on the team then realizes that winning is secondary to taking part - and doesn't expect a bunch of pony-club participation ribbons as a result.
Its a good idea when agreeing to participate in a contest as part of a team, to think about YOUR REASONS and whether it supports the expectations of the rest of the team.
Mis-set or unstated expectations are the cause of disappointment and discouragement. These in turn lead to less future participation and apathy.
Consider writing down why YOU contest and share it with other team participants - you and they may be surprised but at least expectations will be managed.