Competition Between Teammates

Competition is such an important aspect of sports. Competition doesn't just happen between teams, but also between teammates. Teammates compete against each other to earn starting positions, playing time, captain titles, and team MVP awards. Competition is so important because it drives players to improve. Without competition, there's less urgency to improve. When players improve by competing against each other, it helps the team as a whole improve. However, in order for team competition to have its best impact, players need to have a positive attitude about competition. If players have a bad attitude about competition, then competition won't helps the team nearly as much. It may even cause more harm than good. Let me explain the differences between a good attitude and a bad attitude about competition.

Competition occurs when two players desire the same goal, but only one can have it. This desire is normally a good thing, but when this desire becomes too strong and overrides other desires, then it can hurt not only the team, but yourself. For example, if a player desires a starting position so much, and it's the only thing he cares about, then he may start to act in selfish ways. He may still work hard to improve, and this helps the team, but he may also try to bring down his competition (his teammates), and this hurts the team a lot. For example, a QB may not train with the other QBs during the offseason. In practices, he might not encourage them. He might not help them out in the film room. He may hold training tips from them. He may try to play politics with his teammates and coaches to try to win the starting job. He may talk trash about them behind their back. He may hope they fail or even get injured. He may do all of this because his attitude is "Why should I help them? If I help them, they may win the starting job that I want so bad."

Obviously, all of these things are bad for the team as a whole. This is the dilemma that coaches face. They want their players to work hard, and to do this, they motivate them with competition with their teammates. But how do you keep the benefits of competition and get rid of all the bad things that can come with it? The answer is to change players' attitude about competition and motivating them to desire team success over individual success.

To do this, you have to teach them a better attitude about competition. Most people view competition as a dog-eat-dog, zero-sum game. They think they can only be happy if they win the competition. But this is not true. True competition is really a kind of cooperation. It is helping you and your competitor strive together to push limits, reach greater heights, and fulfill potential. It is not always the selfish, “dog-eat-dog” style that people make it out to be. When you compete against your teammate, you are helping each other improve. Yes, there is still a winner and a loser in a sense. One person earns the starting job and the other has to be the backup, but both players gain something that is just as valuable, improvement, and the joy, self-respect, and self-knowledge that comes with it. Not only this, but the combined improvement between you and your teammate helps the team succeed, and team success is something that everyone on the team shares, and it is just as valuable, if not more valuable than individual success.

When teammates have this attitude about competition and value improvement and team success more than individual success, great things happen. They will embrace competition. They don't just want it, they ask for it, because they know it's needed in order to improve and help the team succeed. 

They still desire the starting position, and they push themselves and their teammates as hard as they can to reach it, but if they lose the competition, they're fine with it. They let the best man win and accept the outcome. They still may be a little bit sad for themselves, but they are happy with the improvement that they made, and they are happy that they helped the team improve. 

When players have this attitude, they train with their teammates in the offseason. They help them out as best as they can. They study film together. They give each other tips. They encourage each other in practices and games. They pick each other up when they are down. They root for each others' success. When an entire team holds this attitude, team-cohesion and team-chemistry increase tremendously. As you can see, all of these things greatly help a team succeed.

However, this isn't always possible. You can't always suppress your players individual desires, nor should you. You shouldn't be too "kum ba yah" with your teammates. Athletes still need individuals goals to motivate themselves to work hard. A player shouldn't fear the confrontational and emotional aspect of competition to the point where they say "Here, you can have the starting position. I'm fine being the backup." Teammates shouldn't form a truce and tell each other "Who cares who wins the starting job. Let's just not push each other too hard." This is just an excuse to be lazy. This isn't true competition, where you push each other to push limits, reach greater heights, fulfill potential, and help your team succeed.

To truly help your team succeed, you have to balance these two desires: individual and team success. Tell you players that it's good to have both of these desires, but you should value team success over individual success. Tell them that it's still good and necessary to have individual goals, but when they come in conflict with team goals, you need get over yourself and do what's best for the team.

Cementing this attitude into your players and team culture is so important. It makes the difference between good and great teams. However, successfully teaching this attitude is very challenging because it goes against human nature. But it can be done! It just takes a lot of emphasizing, a lot of teaching, a lot of one one conversations, and a solid plan to further implement it into your team culture.