Probably caused by professional deformation, when I observe an elite athlete, I always try to discern his motivation to demonstrate such fierceness and willingness to win. The success of an athlete generally allows him to reach a distinct status within society.
Once again, there exists a duality between the athlete locked into a personal quest and the one aiming at positioning himself in society, wanting to be recognized by others. Sadly, sport such that failures serve to highlight successes and, at the end of the day, results are what count, not the one standing behind it
Rare are those who will succeed. You only need to look at all the elite races to tell yourself that 90% of the athletes won’t remain on the circuit, having become totally disillusioned. Rationally, there are significantly more failures than successes. Nonetheless, the younger athletes continue to throw themselves in the quest for the Olympics. As for their older rivals, we come to realize that there are world champions in every neighbourhood. Some amateurs see themselves as pros and think that their performance justifies obtaining support.
So what does it mean to be competitive: the two types
Athletes are rarely honest on the subject, but victory is generally a question of ego.
Even if athletes initially become competitors for themselves, helping build self-confidence, it eventually also becomes a means by which they become recognized by their community. It is first and foremost results that count for the athlete, to a point where some even lose the simple pleasure of sport itself. To them, competition becomes a way to position themselves in its hierarchy and only success has value. When success fails to arrive, they are the first to leave the sport or they end up focusing on races where competitors are weaker. Their practice of the sport can rapidly become negative. Let’s call them ‘the Dependents” since they are driven by the expectations [and perceptions] of others.
Athletes in the second category are effectively driving by the need to surpass themselves.
Let’s call athletes in this category ‘the Independents’ since they respond to their own expectations and judge themselves based on those expectations. Rest assured, we practically all have a measure of both these categories in ourselves, positive and negative.
Athletes who compete face two images: one of themselves, and one that others have of them. Judgements are inherently being made. Unfortunately, an athlete generally maintains continuity in sport if he is successful. In the case of developing athletes, there are a number of them who quit, thinking that their results are not sufficiently promising enough to make it to the next level.
When internal questioning is already present, doubt will hamper performance since it will manifest itself under pressure. In the current evaluation of developing athletes, when placing them immediately with certain reference times, we are simply compromising their enjoyment of the sport. All this becomes more and more absurd since it requires time to develop an athlete to his full potential. However, we have cultivated a ‘milking’ culture which allows us to limit ourselves to a number of potential athletes. We should therefore question ourselves whether the system does not incite the athlete to be of the Dependent type and be subject to its influences.
It is therefore maybe not surprising to see that athletes who exhibit more joy in sport are those who prefer controlling their careers rather than letting their careers control them.
Faced with this fear of failure, reactions are generally very different and only those who can respond to it positively are able to continue. We often say that children of athletes benefit from better genes, but they benefit far more from having someone who will understand their insecurities and who can act as mentor.
Certain athletes (the Dependents) manage to hold on by finding excuses, and may go as far as resorting to doping. Sadly, they do so first and foremost out of spite and because they are scared of not being able to meet expectations. This also seems to indicate that their drive to compete isn’t only against themselves.
The competitive spirit in which you evolve is a determining factor in your sporting success and especially in the joy you get out of practising it. When we condemn doping, it is not [only] a question of cheating, but rather a negative experience which should not have its place in sports.
It’s up to all of us to be more conscious of the significance of the athletes’ attitudes, misplaced ego or otherwise.