Keeping Competition Healthy
Competition pervades our daily lives. We vie for employment, cheer on our kids in the spelling bee, even try to beat out others for the best concert tickets by setting up camp outside the box office, calling and calling again, or reloading our web pages as often as is necessary. We entice potential paramours to pay attention to us rather than anyone else at the party, eat more pie than anyone else at the county fair, arm wrestle like we are Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top. Add in the fact that we can compete against ourselves, where in a given situation we try to outdo our previous accomplishments, and it’s clear that the typical person is faced each day with countless opportunities to try to best another person. Winning brings with it bragging rights and increased social status and self-esteem. In addition, for our prehistoric ancestors, winning might have meant the difference between life and death. Thus, the desire to win taps into our most primal survival instincts, and as such, it has the potential to bring out the best or the worst in us.
Competition is obviously inherent in athletic endeavors as well, to a rarefied degree for hard-core athletes who participate in high-powered events like the CrossFit Games, professional team sports, and the Olympics. These athletes eat, sleep, and breathe strategies for achieving the edge over opponents that will garner them the victory, as their performance is what sustains their livelihoods—and probably those of multiple other people. They consult specialists and experts to help them dial in their nutrition, get their mental game in order, and train with effective intensity, focus, and periodization so that they peak just at competition time. Indeed, professional athletics comprises multiple billion-dollar industries dedicated to the science of competition.