The Competition Cycle

In the Beginning
Golden era bodybuilders learned by experimenting on themselves. They invented their own strategies, shared ideas, and fine tuned their physiques in order to become more and more fit.
The look they achieved on competition day wasn't just a snapshot of a pretty body that would go back to being unrecognizable the rest of the year until they prepared to look "stage worthy" again. 
And their competition physiques didn't require a manual from a coach telling them what vegetable, protein, and starch combination they must eat for breakfast on Mondays, and what body part they must train on Tuesdays. 
Are you kidding? They were curious and self-motivated. They didn't have to join "teams" in order to learn how to look good or gain recognition.
Individuals Vs. Instruction-Followers
Maybe I just have a romanticized perception of what bodybuilding used to be: An individual competition made up of people who were inquisitive enough to try stuff; and through experience, became intelligent about hypertrophy, nutrition, fat loss, longevity, health, and their own bodies. 
Getting on stage was a celebration of self-knowledge and capability. Building your body was something spectacular because it created a look that, back then, meant you probably had your act together in the other areas of your life. 
But from what you'll see so often online, it appears to be all about sacrificing other aspects of your life in order to become a martyr for the competition. 
Living an "unbalanced" lifestyle is often glorified among competitors because it means you're willing to surrender other priorities, like long-term health, job success, family, and enjoyment of life, just to win a trophy and to call yourself elite.
So the question is this: If you win a competition by painstakingly following a coach's instructions, are you really the winner? Or is it your coach?
Maybe the trophy should say, "First Place Instruction-Follower."
The Cycle and The Herd Mentality
Bodybuilding is not the art and science it used to be. It's a cycle of conformity. 
Those who compete follow their coach's instructions, then when they win some awards, they become competition coaches who give their competitors the same meal plans and workout instructions that they followed as competitors. 
Then those competitors continue the cycle by becoming competition coaches. 
There's no innovation or individuality. 
And as a "team-sport", the new, naïve and starry-eyed competitors buy all the team apparel, hash-tag all their social media posts with the team name, and represent their team at all local bodybuilding events. They pay to join a group of walking billboards. 
It's this herd mentality that makes local coaches a lot of money, and these are often the same coaches who profit from screwing up their clients' long term health and fitness.
I'd rather lose than follow.
The Two Sides of Competing
If you've never done a physique competition, I don't want to discourage you. There's major opportunity for growth when you prepare to get on stage.
As a teen, my bodybuilding coach gave me the tools to think for myself long after training with him. He had me do several competitions and I'm grateful for those experiences. They got me comfortable with experimenting, strategizing, and fine-tuning. They also turned me into a lifetime lifter.
Then last year, I did a figure contest and discovered that, sometimes, the best thing you can learn from a coach is that you don't really need one.
There are two sides of competing, and you need to know about them both. Tomorrow, T Nation will publish my article about the beautiful and the ugly aspects of bodybuilding.
Hope you check it out.