To the surprise of no one, the key to being successful as an athlete is performing when it counts. Being a stud in practice is 100% useless if you can not duplicate that effort in a game. You can practice a move 100 times, but when the pressure is on, your palms are sweaty, and your heart is beating much faster can you do the same thing? If not why is this and what can you do to manage it? First, it takes an understanding of anxiety and competition, then secondly you need to understand thyself.
Types of Competitiveness
- Determination to rise to the challenge
- Respect for rules
- Genuine satisfaction from putting in a strong effort
- Don’t need to be the best at everything
- Strive to be the best at what you train for
- Can defer gratification
- Healthy Competition
- What gives completion a bad name
- Comes from physiological insecurity
- Can’t accept that losing is a part of competing
- No respect for rules
- Constant comparison with others
- Drag others into competition they don’t want to be in
Which One Are You?
When people say they are not “competitive” they are usually wrong! We are all competitive but most people don’t want anything to do with being Maladaptive when it comes to competition because it really is ugly and not fun to be around.
It is important that you know where you stand in this because it can help you move to a healthier place. I know without a doubt that I was a very adaptive because I only truly care about things that I train for. I ran track and played football, I was not worried about how I was playing basketball. In saying this, though, when I was not confident as an athlete, I tended to constantly compare myself to others due to insecurities of my own. Understanding this and myself help me to move to a healthier place.
Being ultra competitive is not healthy because you are not competing for the right reasons. It is all centered around ego, pride, insecurity and not a true inner satisfaction that feels good.
If your nerves are getting the best of you heading into performances you have to focus on a healthy state of competition to improve this. The first step for most people is to stop comparing yourself to others. Competition can have a very you against the world feel, but you are really just competing against yourself. You are trying to be the best version of yourself. Anytime you have a career best game, or performance it really just means you were the best version of yourself.
You have been presented with a challenge and your job is simply to rise to that challenge. If you are losing going into half time, it is simply a challenge. It does not matter what happened last time, or what you did on the 4th play of the game. What matters at the moment is that you rise.
Strive to Be the Best But It May Take Time
Having a healthy competitive mindset means that you take your craft serious because you know you practice. The daily practices and time putting into being a better athlete are where your confidence comes from. Not just beating other people! The goal is to win but for it to be healthy over a long period of time, confidence needs to come from your daily preparation.
The ability to defer gratification also makes it easier to compete when you are competing with people who are older or at a higher level. This is really important when you are a freshman in high school or college. It can difficult to make those transitions to the next level of school without an understanding that it will take time. You must center your competitiveness on self and get your confidence from how hard you prepare.
Focus on What You Will Win
It is also important that you focus on what you will win. Those who focus on what can be lose often play small. It is different between a team that is trying to win vs one that is trying not to lose. A great example of this is the 2017 Super Bowl where the Tom Brady led the Patriots back over the Atlanta Falcons.
The falcons played a great first half clearly but something changed in the locker room. The whole organization made a shift from, let’s pummel these guys, to let’s do everything we can to NOT LOSE! When you play not to lose, you make more mistakes, you over think choices, you made bad calls, nothing goes well.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were going for the kill. They were taking risks, and playing how they normally play. Thinking about having one of the greatest comebacks was definitely on their minds. They were thinking about holding that trophy, the bonuses, the Super Bowl rings and so much more!
When you find the anxiousness climbing up on you more than you would like, just remember that it means that you are alive! But also move your focus to the things you will get when you win. Don’t for a second start thinking about what a loss will mean for your pride, what your coach will say, what your parents will say, what that scout will say or anything else! Focus on the win and the results of that win.
Being Calm is Not for Everyone
I ruined my last few years of my track career because I thought being calm was what I needed. I started meditating a lot and I convinced myself that if I was cool and calm I would thrive. That could not have been further from the truth, though. It was not until I looked back on my career that I realized I am not driven when I am calm. I am driven when I am excited and a bit afraid. Anger drives me even more.
I excelled in sports because I always had a chip on my shoulder. I lived my entire life feeling like I had to work twice as hard to get half the result. Meaning I was willing to work 4 times as hard just to get that win. I felt like I did not get the respect I deserved, and I thrived on that. When I signed to Iowa State I always remembered that no other schools wanted me. When I lined up against kids from Texas and other big schools I wanted them to feel it because they took my scholarship.
My point is this, if you excel being calm then keep doing things to calm yourself down. If you are like me though and you excel fearful and angry then use that. Fuel yourself with those things. That is why I said at the start that the key is knowing you. Otherwise, this article will seem really contradictory. You have to know what and where your true motivations come from and use them. Anxiety always gets a bad wrap but it is not always a bad thing. It is impossible for some people to be their best if they are not a bit anxious.
Like Happy Gilmore, you just gotta find your Happy Place!