Is competition a good thing? I have met with many return missionaries through the years that have found it challenging to return to competitive sports after serving their fellowmen as representatives of the Lord. It has been hard for them to flip the switch from genuinely loving others, and seeking their spiritual growth, to desiring to dominate their enemies.
We have all witnessed the dark side of competition. Coaches berating players publicly; players trash talking or fighting following a game; out of control parents yelling at officials at youth sporting events; and emotional fans engaging in juvenile behaviors during rivalry games. If we are honest with ourselves, we will likely recall times when we were not our best selves during the heat of the battle. When we allow sport to become a war and our opponent become the enemy we are more likely to lose perspective about what true competition is all about.
This is not just an ethical, moral, or sportsmanship issue. An improper approach to competition can also undermine performance. The “beat your enemy” approach creates unnecessary stress because it focuses on defeating your opponent rather than performing your best. It also creates an unhealthy connection between the outcome of the event and a person’s self-worth. When you believe that your self-worth is on the line each time you compete, you experience more performance anxiety and fear of failure. Even when you succeed, there is increased pressure to achieve even higher levels of performance in order to be appreciated. Finally, this unhealthy approach to competition creates hostility and aggression as
well as the belief that you only benefit at the expense of others.
True competition, on the other hand, involves striving with and seeking excellence together. It is motivating to compete with well-matched opponents who challenge us to be at our best. It is a partnership and not a battle. We need our competitors in order to achieve excellence ourselves. In true competition, the focus shifts to the process of competing rather than on the outcome of the contest. As we do so, we share the love of the game with our opponents.
One of my favorite sports memories at BYU was the famous “Beck to Harline” game. The game was intense throughout and the outcome was not decided until the final play. Both teams gave their best effort and deserved to win. Then the big play occurred which will stay in the collective memory of Cougar fans forever. However, the other fond memory for most of us was the mutual respect shown by John Beck and Eric Weddle as they congratulated each other after their final contest as superstars in this outstanding rivalry. They shook hands as partners in this great event and genuinely wished each other well in their future careers. They demonstrated for all of us how true competitors bring out the best in each other. BYU is a distinctive and unique university and can lead the way as true competitors.
Coaching True Competition
Speak respectfully of every opponent
Use words such as “game,” “play,” and “opponent” instead of “war,” “battle,” and “enemy”
Model emotional management for your players and fans
Value the attitude, effort, and focus of your team as much as the outcome of the competition
Demonstrate for your players how much you love the game…reminding them to enjoy the process that leads to excellence
Congratulate your opponents publicly and in private with your team