Off and Running

Intra-team competition done right helps inter-team competition


Mark Carlson, Sports Editor

It would be safe to say that every coach wants their athletes to compete. But against who? Do athletes have to only compete against an opposing team, or do they have to compete against teammates as well. Well, as the saying goes, “Iron sharpens iron.”

I’ll explain that in sports terms. Let’s pretend that I’m good at basketball and that I’m on the basketball team. Let’s also assume that somehow I’m good enough to be the sixth man. But I want to be a starter really badly. I have to compete against the starting player John Johnson to get that starting spot and become better than he is. Meanwhile John wants to stay a starter. As we compete to get that spot, we both get better, thus improving each other and the team regardless of who gets the starting spot.
The same goes in a non-hypothetical situation. Essentially competition for spots within a team makes the team and athletes better. As Damon Burton, author of “Sports Psychology for Coaches” puts it, “Competition can lead athletes to consistently perform their best.” For me personally, I am driven to literally not get left in the dust by my teammates. It still happens a lot, but the only reason I am close to them in races, is because I hang on as long as I can to them in practice. And I do everything I can not to let people behind me do the same to me.

Coaches are also responsible for keeping competition going. I remember my coach in middle school putting numbers on our arms in sharpie of where he thought we would finish on the team. Of the six of us that were competing for spots, I got the number six. My friend got a four on his arm. We worked our butts off the next week and by the time the meet rolled around, we finished in first and second. It was a simple motivation, but it really worked by having us compete against our teammates.

However, coaches have to manage the competition correctly. Having to compete against and outperform someone on a daily basis is challenging. So when coaches are constantly breeding competition amongst their athletes, it has the potential to damage performances when it really counts. Imagine someone competing from June to October or even November against everyone on their team. Then there are the win or go home games, matches, or meets. By the time those roll around people are tired the pressures of having to win on a daily basis and even though they give it their all, they don’t have enough drive to get the “dubs” when they matter. Congrats, you won a regular season game in August. Hope your team can keep it together through October and November!

To win when it matters, players, coaches and even parents have to hop, skip and tip toe along a fine line. This fine line is when to compete, or to encourage competition, and when not to. Too much competition and the only reward for all the work is a varsity patch to go on a jacket a sixth place finish in sectionals (Whiteland cross country). Not enough competition and the team goes down in a fiery ball of suckiness in the first game of sectionals.