The Competition Is My Friend

We like to think about the competition as an enemy. Media paints the negative connotation, and this picture is ingrained in us from a young age. On the other hand, some choose not to go there and may shun competition entirely, claiming it only breeds ugliness. For that reason many think there should be no winners or losers in youth sports.

What if we looked at competition in a different light? Could it give us a healthier perspective on whatever it is we are pursuing? And could it also allow us to pursue our goals with greater focus and less anxiety?

In Pete Carroll’s book, “Win Forever,” he says, “Competition to me is not about beating your opponent. It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; and it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive edge in everything you do.” It honestly sounds a little elementary to me — but I can’t argue him leading the USC Trojans to two national championships and the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory. He’s competed and won at the highest of levels. Carroll goes on to say, “My opponents are not my enemies. My opponents are the people who offer me the opportunity to succeed.”I’d never heard someone talk about the competition this way. Our opponents are actually our allies in the pursuit of a common goal. There’s even a chemistry there. Our opponents provide the resistance. They hit the ball back. They inspire us to become better. They enable us to raise our level of play.

Carroll also said, “The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with the opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best.” I love this! This mindset welcomes tough competition. With this attitude, you hope your opponent brings their “A” game because you know only their best allows you the opportunity to bring out your best. Learn to lean into the challenge.

A true competitor doesn’t just want to win. After all, a victory over a vastly inferior opponent doesn’t mean much. A true competitor relishes the struggle. Viewing your opponent as a friend or ally allows one to embrace and enjoy the challenge they present. When fear or anxiety creep in, true competitors step toward it. Competitive greatness is when we neither fear nor vilify an opponent, but welcome and seize their resistance to simply become better. 

Explore Further: I came across the book, “The Inner Game of Tennis,”from this Sports Illustrated article on Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll. It’s one of the most influential books on performance mindset. Here’s a passage from the book on competition:

“In tennis who is it that provides a person with the obstacles he needs in order to experience his highest limits? His opponent, of course! Then is your opponent a friend or an enemy? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to make things difficult for you. Only by playing the role of your enemy does he become your true friend. So I arrived at the startling conclusion that true competition is identical with true cooperation. Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition it isn’t the other person we are defeating; it is simply a matter of overcoming the obstacles he presents. In true competition no person is defeated. Both players benefit by their efforts to overcome the obstacles presented by the other.”

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