Can you Coach an Athlete to be More Competitive?

The world of sports is a battleground where the pursuit of “winning” is often in the forefront of everything else. Athletes and coaches often find themselves in a relentless quest to gain a “Competitive Advantage”. I have spoken to many coaches who have wondered how much an athlete can actually be coached to increase their “competitiveness.”

With that said, what exactly is a competitive mindset?

Can it be developed and coached?

Are some athletes born with a more competitive nature or is competition taught and developed over time?

Throughout my 25+ years as a coach of both male and female players, I have seen some players that appear to be innately more competitive than others. I have also seen players develop a more competitive edge through practice and determination to reach individual and team goals.

The big question in my opinion is: What does it take to coach a competitive spirit in a healthy and meaningful way?

According to football great Steve Young, “the principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.”

It is true, that some athletes may have a genetic predisposition to being more competitive. Scientific research has suggested that a higher level of testosterone is often associated with increased competitiveness. However, it’s important to know that biology is just one piece of this puzzle. It doesn’t solely determine an athletes’ competitive mindset.  Female athletes can be just as competitive as male athletes.

Indiana Pacers Assistant Coach, Jenny Boucek, told me that she believes female athletes can be taught to be competitive but are often “held back by fears.” Coach Boucek has a lot of experience coaching females and males and I totally agree with her.  She says that some of these fears include, “Fear of what others will think. Fear of losing relationships and fear of jealousy.”

We know that the word “competitive” itself can have a negative connotation with some groups of people.  I believe that TRUST is the most important element to creating, developing, nurturing and coaching a more competitive environment within a team.  If athletes don’t trust their coaches or their teammates, a competitive culture can cause friction, doubt, jealousy and other things that can hurt the desired outcome of a winning program.

Exposure to healthy competition from an early age, combined with a supportive and nurturing environment, can help athletes develop a competitive mindset that is healthy and productive. Competing against strong opponents and learning from victories and defeats can also contribute to the growth of a competitive spirit.

We do know that resilience and mental toughness are qualities that can be worked on through mental training and practice. Therefore, developing mental toughness and resilience is a crucial aspect of fostering a competitive mindset – these are skills that can be taught and learned.

The reality is that the development of a competitive mindset is not solely dictated by nature or nurture. It’s a complex interplay between both factors. Some athletes may have a natural inclination towards competitiveness, but this can be enhanced, refined and developed through the right coaching and athletic experience.

I think most coaches agree that the competitive mindset is a crucial aspect of success in sports.  When an athlete trusts his or her coaches and teammates, a competitive environment can be fun, successful and winning.

linda smiling<br />

Written by Linda Martindale

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