Is Your Competitive Mindset Healthy or Unhealthy?

Updated: Jan 27

Talitha Vogt crests one of the high alpine passes in The Grand Travers, Sept 2020
The Grand Traverse, Sept 2020, photo credit: Alex Neuschaefer

As a women’s endurance coach, I often hear from athletes that they “aren’t competitive,” as if they’re describing something similar to being ugly or selfish. Let’s clarify a few things about being competitive.

First of all, I’m still not sure why “being competitive” has somehow become a negative label. Consider this: At some point in the past, there was a man and/or a woman potentially competing for one another’s affection, which in turn created a relationship, which in turn is the reason you are alive today.

Competition is a part of being a healthy human. The problem is the meaning that we assign to the competitive behavior and the method in which it’s executed.

Secondly, competitiveness doesn’t only refer to sports. Know that person who has to always be doing better than everyone else? That’s a type of competition as well. Devastated that you lost the parking space at King Soopers? Yep, competition, and most likely about something else, not the parking space. What about your friend who always comes to your BBQs and has to top everyone’s story with a story that’s wilder and crazier? Yep, and I think you know that example goes deeper than the surface.

Sports and “Doing Epic Shit”

There are different rules at play in life and on the playing field, and you are allowed and expected to adopt different behaviors for each. For example, in a race or other type of endurance event, like a Gran Fondo—if you are choosing to actually race, go fast, and/or see how quickly you can ride the entire thing—you might adopt more aggressive behaviors to keep your place. But when you go to the grocery store, (hopefully) you choose to let that behavior go and chill out. So you can see, different behavior rules apply in different settings, and you can turn it on or off depending on the situation.

The more pressing issue is that there are healthy forms of competition and unhealthy forms of competition. So often in life, it is not so much what you’re doing, but the “place” you are coming from when you are doing that thing. Since we are talking about humans, there never has been and never will be a black-and-white answer. So, let’s delve into this gray. (Oh yeah, we’re going to engineer the shit out of this! Because that’s what coaches do!)