What Does It Take To Be Competitive?

competitorsCompetition has always been an integral part of human nature. From the early centuries when humans had to compete for resources like food and shelter, individuals that are best able to compete within their environmental niche are the ones to survive.

Competition is inevitable – the challenge is being able to thrive from it.

According to Sigmund Freud, humans are born seeking attention. In order to achieve attention, they’re forced to compete for it. Winning and succeeding in that goal results in a sense of self-fulfillment.

Although all humans are born with competition in their genes, some display a more competitive personality.

Competitiveness can also be learned. Depending on the environment that an individual has been raised in, lifestyle factors can affect competitive traits.

With both genetic and environmental factors affecting an individual’s competitive nature, how does playing sports from a young age add into the mix?

Playing competitive sports provides athletes with the ability to:

  • Set goals
  • Follow rules
  • Cope with stress and nerves
  • Win and lose
  • Be committed
  • Take risks

All of these traits add up to a competitive athlete. Being competitive is extremely important in sports, academics, and the work force.


Michael Jordan, one of the most passionate, driven and competitive athletes of all-time believes that he has, “missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Athletics teach players to persevere. Like Michael Jordan, everyone fails, it’s just a matter of how you react to failure.

Women’s National Soccer Team player, Hope Solo, was kicked off the team and lost two loved ones in the span of one year. She then went on to win the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. She says it’s a matter of channeling your anger and finding your inner strength.

Without athletics, neither of these athletes would be the people they are today. Both have learned to overcome diversity and succeed in difficult situations because they’re so competitive.

Future Benefits

Competitiveness is innate and can be enhanced by athletics, but are there benefits to having a competitive nature?

After playing youth sports some athletes may go on to compete at the collegiate or professional level. However, once an athlete retires, they typically have to venture out in the corporate world – an arena where competitive drive can serve them as an asset once again.

Athletes will have a winning mindset and always strive to improve themselves. They’re conditioned to work well in teams, have self-confidence, and maintain a heightened awareness of their competition.

The lessons learned through sports are transferrable to various aspects of life. The best time to adopt these competition-driven traits is at a young age – making youth sports an invaluable activity when training for a child’s future.

Being competitive is natural but not universally equal. Sports seem to enhance healthy competitiveness and that can lead to success on and off the field.

The Youth Sports ‘Arms Race’

Baseball Pitch

Youth sports are more competitive than ever. A recent article by the Associated Press likens it to an “athletic arms race”. Despite this competitiveness, participation in youth sports has dropped in the past decade. Where’s the disconnect?

Fewer Spots

According to the article, there are more kids playing sports due to an increase in population but fewer available roster spots on High School teams due to budget cuts and other reasons. This leads to increased competition, especially at younger ages, in order to compete for roster spots in High School and with clubs.

Wrong Emphasis

One byproduct of this hyper-competitiveness is that more kids will give up a sport sooner because they won’t get playing time or even make the team as they get older. Many forget, unfortunately, that the benefits of playing sports include much more than winning a championship. Aside from the fitness benefits, young players learn leadership skills, motor skills, how to be part of a team, and lots more.

Responsibility of Parents & Organizations

Realizing these “other” benefits is most important. Both parents and youth sports organizations must understand that participation is key – even if a child isn’t the best athlete, they still stand to gain a multitude of benefits from continued participation.

Does your child and/or organization encourage participation? What mechanisms are used to engage the non-elite athletes?

Winning At All Costs … Is Costly

USADA What Sport Means Research March 2011 ESDoug Glanville has always been well spoken. The former Major League Baseball player graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and had a successful career with the Cubs, Phillies, and Rangers. Recently, he joined ESPN as a baseball analyst.

Glanville also works as a researcher for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The organization released a recent report regarding Sport’s Role in Society. Doug and his other researchers surveyed 8,000+ adults and 2,000+ children in order to draw some key conclusions.

In a recent blog post on TIME’s website, Doug summarized the report’s key finding – an unhealthy obsession with winning. While participation numbers are encouraging, the fun seems to be taken out of sports too early – leading to participation declines.

In your youth sports experience, do you place greater emphasis on fun or winning? Does it differ by the child’s age? Are there other factors involved? Let us know!