Looking at the other side of the equation—playing sports may not be a vehicle for self-development. Why? There are many reasons, but I will speak to a few common ones:
- The player(s) never truly owns the experience
- The end is more important than the means
- A fixed mindset
In the first case, the driving need is one of approval. The individual lacks the autonomy to make their own decisions and the biggest payoff, most likely, is being in the good standing of another. The spectrum of how much freedom the individual surrenders is related to the power possessed by the one who actually calls the shots. While we may witness some success in such an authoritarian dynamic, the player does not own enough of themselves and their experience to develop an integrated and differentiated sense of self—the very stuff of character.
In the second case, the product or end-goal is the only thing that matters. Win at all costs, it’s a dog eat dog world, nice guys finish last, only the fittest survive… This is a very black and white perspective and it is hard to develop a sense of character when you see everyone as someone who can take something from you. As we have said many times in this venue, in competition you have nothing at the start and earn everything as you go. In any league or competition, only one gets the first-place trophy. While the ultimate prize is one of the goals, there must be other compelling reasons to play—the greatest being the opportunity and enjoyment of improving at what you love to do.
The final case has to do with identity. One with a fixed mindset identifies with static qualities. This is the opposite of character which is developed over time and features many mistakes and re-aligning along the way. According to Carol Dweck, a competitor with a fixed mindset avoids challenges, ignores negative feedback, sees talent as static and effort as fruitless, gives up easily, and is threatened by the success of others. This person identifies with a very rigid sense of success and does not seize the opportunity afforded in the process of overcoming challenges.
While there are different perspectives, one that focuses solely on competence and accomplishment and ignores the development of character seems limiting. After all, who you are at the core will be who you are in all your other roles. And there is no conflict between fierce competitiveness and fairness, intensity and sportsmanship, toughness and respect. Interestingly, those who look to be the best understand they need the best of others to help them get there. This goes back to the true meaning of the word compete: to strive together. For everything, at some level exists in a relationship. And you can’t develop competence without the consistent challenge provided by the best efforts in others.
If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.