Your Relationship With Your Competition

Obviously it's important to have good relationships with your teammates, but not many people think about the importance of relationships between competitors. Your relationship with your opponents can greatly affect your mental health and performance.

There are some extremely competitive athletes who actually hate their competition. They purposely try to become enemies with their competition. This may help them with motivation at times, but overall, it is not a good way to live. With this "me against the world" attitude, you isolate yourself, grow bitter, and miss out on fulfilling friendships. This not only hurts your social skills and mental health, but it can also hurt your performance in game. If you make competition too personal, and play with too much anger towards your opponents, your performance can worsen. You may not be able to control your emotions, which can lead to choking and bad decision making.

To prevent this, you need to build better relationships with your competition. Understand that your opponents are people just like you. Just because they play for a different team doesn't make them terrible people. If you were to get to know your opponents more, you might find that they are great people who could be great friends. It can help to think of your entire sport as one big "fraternity." You and your opponents all share one thing in common: you're all athletes of the same sport. You all share similar lifestyles, schedules, and travel. Because of this, it's probably easier to make friends in your sport than it is to make friends with non-athletes. Why would you want to miss out on these friendships? 

This is especially important for athletes who play individual sports such as tennis and golf. Since they can't rely on the friendships of their teammates, they really need to make friends with their competition in order to prevent isolation. Lastly, remember that the friendships you make with your competition can last for the rest of your life. After you retire, you and your old opponents can reminisce about your past battles and thank each other for helping each other improve.

You may be thinking, "but how can I compete my hardest if I'm too friendly with my competition? Don't I need to make enemies to give myself more motivation?"  This is a sports myth that is partially created by the media. The media loves to portray opponents as enemies, since this helps drive ratings, but it is not always the truth. There are many athletes that are friends with their competition, but once the game starts, they know how to switch modes and be very competitive. They don't make things personal. They don't worry about hurting their friends’ feelings. They just focus on playing their best, then after the game, they are able to go back being friends with their opponents. They know the game is important, but they know it's just a game. They know how to compartmentalize and separate the game from the rest of their life.

Another reason why they're able to do this is because they view competition a little differently than others. They don't just see it as a battle of egos trying to climb the status hierarchy. They see it also as athletes striving together to reach individual and human potential. This helps them handle failure and success better. They don't think a loss means they are less of a person, and they don't think a victory means they are better humans than their competition. In other words, they have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. This helps them maintain their competitiveness during games and their friendships after games.

This doesn't mean you should be friends with every single opponent of yours. It's fine to dislike an opponent if you have good reasons to. I'll admit, this sometimes gives you good motivational fuel if done correctly. But overall, your relationship with your competition should be positive and healthy.