There are no true secrets to becoming a good competitor in sports. The principles are the same, no matter what sports you participate in. What follows are five very specific ways in which you can immediately become a better competitor and athlete. Whether you are a weekend warrior, or an Olympian-to-be, implement these strategies and see for yourself.
Forget about the win, focus on the fight
This principle is the most important difference between mediocre athletes and those that succeed at the highest level of their sports. I believe that sports provide us a great metaphor for life, in that they teach us how to work towards goals, individually and with others, and how to pick ourselves up after trying circumstances. That being said, sports stink in one regard: They teach us that life is all about wins and losses. In sports, there is always a winner, and always a loser.
In life, the same is not true. It is not a zero-sum game, where one person’s gain equals another person’s loss. You cannot “win” in a relationship, for example. You can only work to make it satisfying and enjoyable for both people involved. If you want to become a better athlete and competitor, forget about whether you win or lose in sports. Focus more on how well you fight and compete, as that is something completely within your control.
You cannot control the outcome of sports (winning) even though you think you can! As proof of this, how many professional athletes have had career days in their sports in a losing effort? Too many to count. It happens every day. This is because there are too many variables that go into winning that are out of our control.
So, the more you can focus on those things you can control (particularly, how hard you play), the better you’ll feel at the end. If you set out to outwork your opponent, or to never give up, and follow through, you will have achieved your goals. Doing so inspires confidence. And sports are all about confidence.
Coming prepared means that you work to know something about your opponent before you compete against them. Know what they like to do, and what they don’t like to do. You can study your opponent, if at all possible. Find out how they play in warm-ups, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are. You can do this by merely watching for ten minutes or so.
If you are a weekend warrior, you can still do this, even before pick-up games. Notice how your opponent talks to you (or him or herself) during competition (“Man am I tired”, “I can’t make any putts today”) and you’ll pick up additional data. Overall, the better prepared you are strategically entering competition, the better the results will be in the heat of battle. Do some of the work ahead of time to get an edge.