Competitive spirit can drive athletes and teams to unimaginable heights. Quarterback Tom Brady is a classic study. He was a back-up for much of his University of Michigan career. The New England Patriots drafted him in the sixth round. He made the team as a substitute but quickly evolved into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. "I looked up John Wooden's Pyramid of Success and couldn't grade Tom any lower than A-minus in any of those attributes," Brady's high school coach, Tom MacKenzie, once told USA Today. "And he gets an A-plus in competitive spirit, which is Tom's greatest gift."
Motivation to Prepare
Playing sports is fun. Mental preparation for sports can be tedious. Athletes like Brady and fellow NFL quarterback Peyton Manning draw on their competitive spirit to plow on with game preparation. The Wall Street Journal recalled the story behind a now-famous Manning photo. He was watching plays on his iPad while soaking his ankle in a cold tub. But why was his helmet on? Manning was missing practice due to an injury, but he was listening to the play calls in his helmet radio headset. Such a quest for perfection rubs off on teammates.
Drive to Push Through Physical Barriers
Great athletes use their competitive drive to extend their physical limits in training. And they go even further in competition, as research published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal explained. “Whenever you do exercise you’re likely to think ‘how much am I willing to hurt myself?’ and there’s usually a point which holds you back because you don’t want to do yourself irreparable damage," researcher Jo Corbett wrote. "But when racing someone head-to-head the athlete’s brain can manipulate this signal and keep on going.”
Playing to Win
Great athletes want to beat other greats at their game. They relish the opportunity to compete against the best. They become almost ruthless while seeking an edge. This is why basketball legend Michael Jordan couldn't fathom LeBron James joining forces with Dwayne Wade on the Miami Heat. "In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys. I don't know if they would have been on my team," Jordan said in a TV interview. "You know, I'm a competitive guy, and I like to play against competitive players and see what happens from there."
Collective Will to Win
Teams cannot succeed with ultra-competitive players striving to win games on their own. They must band together and do whatever it takes as a group. They feed off each other. Winning teams become greater than the sum of their parts, as the San Francisco Giants demonstrated while reaching the World Series for the third time under manager Bruce Bochy. "I'd say more than anything it is just the spirit they play with," Bochy told reporters during the 2014 World Series. "They play for each other and they're a very unselfish group. They're not caught into their own agenda, and they'll do whatever is best for the club."
- MLB.com: Band of Brothers: Team-First Mentality Key For Giants
- Wall Street Journal: Super Bowl 2014: Peyton Manning Is Mr. Annoying
- Chicagoist: Jordan on Lebron: I Wanted to Beat the Best, Not Join Them
- Pyschology Today: Head to Head Competition: It Really Is Mind Over Matter
- USA Today: Brady Always Compensates with Fierce Competiveness
- UCLA Bruins: John R. Wooden's Pyramid of Success
- Photo Credit D Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images