Competiveness v Hard Work

I recently saw a video of a coach discussing that working hard and competing are not the same. Which is a really interesting idea to me. The point was that anyone can work hard. And that a coach can make anyone work hard. Which I don't really agree with but I understand the point, I think.

Then afterwards I realised there were a few things missing.

But first I want to note, I really liked the clip. It really resonated with me and made me think. Maybe too much!


Ok, I'll assume you have watched the video now, or have seen it before. If not, stop and watch it. Don't be that person who forms an opinion on something just by reading the headline and the comments!


(Arguably) the two biggest myths in sport are

  • all athletes are competitive1 and all athletes can work hard all the time if they want to
    • Neither are true at all
Having said that, both are really important ideas for getting the most out of athletes. So, a few of questions came to mind:

Are they related or are they different things?

  • I would say that they are no more related then being blonde and being 6-3 (except for Norwegians, of course)
  • So, different things, not related

Do they overlap or are they mutually exclusive?

  • You can be competitive and not work hard at all (I've coached plenty of these), competitive AND work hard (I've probably coached a few of these, but only one who was also highly skilled), and work hard but not be competitive (coached plenty of these too)
  • So, they overlap and have a lot of variation

Is one more important than the other?

  • The implication in the video (to me) is that competitiveness is more important, and that you need competitiveness to win
    • Or maybe the video is just making the point that they are not the same thing
  • Is it more important 'when'? There are times when hard work is more important than competing (dreary workouts, injury rehab), and times when competitiveness is more important (competing)
  • Competitors will possibly win any given level of any sport. The person who competes the best in that level will probably win. BUT, the player who wins the tennis satellite event because she is a better competitor, probably isn't playing in the Grand Slam because she doesn't work hard enough
  • Let's say that both are important then

What actually IS competing?

  • In the video she says you can make anyone work hard (do what you are told) but she doesn't actually explain what this elusive 'competitiveness' thing is (unless I missed it). I know that it exists, probably you do to, but it is hard to define
  • BTW - not sure if Dennis Rodman could be made to work hard if he didn't want to, but he is certainly an outlier

When is competitiveness exhibited?

  • Is it situation specific? Does it have to be?
  • If someone is only competitive in the sport they compete in then it doesn't really matter if they are not competitiveness in anything else, does it?
  • Does being competitive at schoolwork mean you are competitive in sport?

Can competitiveness be learned?

  • I remember coaching someone who was not particularly competitive but joined a team that was. Eventually he ended up very competitive because that was the accepted standard.
  • But, if you think it is inherent, should you ask non-competitive people to be competitive? Isn't that just setting them up for failure?

Is it essential?

  • If we accept that there is a spectrum of competitiveness and also of hard working (because, well, just about everything related to human beings is on a spectrum), then, is it essential? That is, can you win without it, at the highest level?
  • Probably yes in team sports, probably no in individual sports

Examples (just thought I'd throw this in for fun)

Competitive AND Work Hard
  • Jordan, Tiger, ? 
  • Not too many in this basket, and as I always say, these are outliers. They don't really prove or disprove anything
Competitiveness NOT Work Hard
  • Nick Kyrgios?
  • I suspect we just don't know many famous athletes like this because they don't get very far
Work Hard NOT Competitive
  • ?
  • I can think of many people I have coached, but not too many famous ones from other sports
  • My suspicion here is that there are a lot of these types of athletes around. They get good enough that they succeed to a certain extent. They will lose to an equally skilled competitive athlete but they will always have a chance to win


1 - Thanks Mark


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