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  • Brian Pendergast

Competition: The Good and Ugly

Competition surrounds you! No matter where you turn, competition closely follows. Whether it is in your academic world, business/work world, or in your athletic world, you know what it means to be in a competitive environment.

For the most part, athletics is one of the most obvious and prevalent times children and adults alike experience competition. There are many positive learning opportunities that come from competition that not only help in the now, but certainly prepare us for success in the future. But there are also drawbacks to competition when not applied properly. As a coach and former athlete, healthy competition was and still is a powerful tool in my development that I believe it is well worthwhile to take a look at both the positive, and not so positive aspects of competing.

Where do you stand?

Competition is a barometer, showing you where you stand, not only compared to others, but also within yourself. Competition doesn’t have to solely be about beating others, but can push you to be your best you. When you compete, there is a direct result. For instance, you generally either win or lose in a team event or match. You either get the job promotion or someone else does. Your SAT score goes up on your second attempt or they don’t. Knowing where you stand on your journey to reach your dreams and goals is a must on the path to success. Without it, you are aimlessly hoping to achieve as opposed to actively pursuing. Please remember though, not every moment should be set up as a competition. Part of your journey to reaching success involves practice, where we fail and stumble in order to build and grow. Competition can be a valuable test that shows you where you are in your path, when used at the appropriate times.

Elevate your game

When you face competition, be it from within or from others, you need to work harder and smarter, reinventing yourself to get better, achieve your goals, and stay on top. Competition can spur motivation to improve by having the desire to win and succeed. You can be self-motivated by competing with yourself, motivated by competing against others, or with some combination of the two. Our very nature drives us towards success, accomplishment, and fulfillment. Without competition, it may be easier to fall into a state of complacency. There needs to be an honesty check with what you are doing, whether it be chasing an athletic dream, building a business, or growing a family. Competition can be that check.

The only loss is not learning something after you lose

No one sets out to lose, but no one wins at everything all of the time. One of the results of competition is that you lose. But, losing carries with it a VALUABLE positive learning opportunity! As stated in earlier blog posts, you tend to learn best after defeat. When you are successful, it is easier not to sufficiently examine the “why” behind your success or even more importantly, the “what” you have to do next to continue this success. Inevitably, you eventually stumble in failure or defeat and have to pick yourself up. While dusting off, the question “what the heck happened?!” pops up. Upon examination, you have some choices to make, one of them being to figure out why you stumbled and to make a plan to change it. Remember, failure only happens when we stop trying. Without sufficient competition, you don’t lose and therefore, don’t have this amazing opportunity to improve with defeat. There are many days in everyone’s life where they are challenged by defeat, or at the very least, the struggle. Resiliency isn’t learned without them. Competition, from within or from the outside, can be that struggle. When you do lose, although initially unpleasant, becomes much more valuable when you have the perspective that this is a great opportunity to get better than you ever were before. Being resilient is key to your athletic, academic, work, and personal development. The sooner you learn this skill, the better!

How do you feel?

Competition can encourage introspection. We don’t always make time for an emotional inventory in our day to day lives. However, you can use competition to prompt this self-examination. Does competition, from within yourself or from outside influences, create anxiety and angst? Do you tend to shy away from competition? On the flip side, does competition cause you to get too pumped up and out of control? Or, does it inspire and motivate you to be the best you? We all experience competition differently. We even react to competition differently in various areas of our lives. Once you understand how you react, you can ask the question “why?” By understanding your thoughts and feelings, you can be the power behind your success, achievement, and sense of fulfillment. Your thoughts determine your feelings and your feelings influence your performance.

When the pressures of competition outweigh the pleasures of competition

Competition, when misunderstood, can be detrimental to the physical and mental development of anyone. Two common misunderstandings of competition are: the “over-competitive, win at all costs, all of the time” approach, and the “nothing should ever be a competition” approach.

When everything is viewed as a competition and winning is placed at the apex of success, the boat on both human and athletic development is completely missed. As mentioned earlier, nobody sets out to lose, but everyone loses sometimes. When you create the expectation that you have to win all of the time, that means you can never lose, and therefore, need to be perfect. With this mindset, there is no time for accepting the imperfections of practice, or life in general. From a developmental aspect, you really don’t get better without this acceptance. You certainly do not understand the importance of failing as it relates to growth. The internal and perceived external pressures to win all of the time create psychological repercussions including anxiety, increased levels of performance stress, inability to effectively communicate and work with others, and lower self-esteem when you don’t perform flawlessly, all of which reduce your ability to perform at a high level. As you become more emotionally agitated, an appropriate perspective is lost. Joy turns to frustration, pleasure to pressure, collaboration to pettiness. This happens in the athletic world far too often. It’s one game and the fate of the world does not hang in its balance! Unfortunately, by this stage, you lose all semblance of the importance of community. Even in the competitive nature of athletics, no athlete ever becomes a champion by going it alone. You always need help, assistance, guidance, knowledge, and wisdom from others. You can’t get this with just competition and development is hindered.

On the other hand, when nothing is viewed as a competition or when you are always placed in an environment that is beneath your level, as a way for self-preservation or protection, development is also hindered. This safety net approach does not teach you the valuable lesson of resiliency after stumbling or failing. Much like in the over-competitive approach, you don’t appreciate and understand the value in failing as a way to grow, since you are never put in a position to fail. By always experiencing success or without the motivation to be better, complacency and a false sense of your development takes hold. Since a non-competitive environment is just not a realistic environment in our present society, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. When finally confronted with adequate competition, you will eventually fail. When this happens, you won’t know how to pick yourself back up. This can lead to far more discomfort and confusion as you lack the skills to deal with failure. You may quit working altogether. The ramifications of quitting can spill over to your social, professional, and personal life affecting far more than just that one loss on the athletic field.


The key to competition, much like everything else in life, is balance. The all or nothing approach seldom works, and the same rings true with competition. The important thing here is to take a look at how you view competition in your life. Ask yourself, how does competition positively drive you or negatively hold you back? The great thing about development, be it athletic or otherwise, is that anything can be changed to help you on your way. It just takes practice, determination, a positive attitude, and a healthy relationship with success and failure.

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