The Benefits of a Competitive Environment

A couple of months back I posted on social media a quote from PGA Tour Coach Jake Thurm but did not put his name to it as I only used part of it. It was a blanket statement that quite rightly a few people disagreed with. What I said was:

“all the latest research indicates that juniors develop faster in constant competitive environments”

As a blanket statement without explanation, it is controversial. Some people came back to me with a strong disagreement, others came back to me with a strong agreement and many recognised that it was controversial, and they probably did not agree with it but did not want to question me.

It is a controversial comment, as I am well aware that many juniors in many sports get put off by competition and it can even cause them to quit the sport as they do not feel comfortable and ‘they just don’t want to’ or ‘they don’t like it’. So, it is clear that if you force a child into a competition, ‘their’ progress may be hindered. ‘Their’ progress could be halted altogether as what they fell in love with (the fun of the sport) has been taken away.

So, to me, there are two things that need to be discussed from this. One is, should the quote be re-phrased? Would it be more accurate to say:

“all the latest research indicates that juniors that have developed faster have enjoyed being in a constant competitive environment.”

In my 30 years of coaching juniors, I have certainly seen this to be true and world-renowned psychologist in expertise and human performance, K Anders Ericsson says “engagement in competition as well as training and performing in teams has unique value for developing superior competitive performance”

And the second one is, and this is where most people get it wrong, what is a competitive environment?

To me, a competitive environment is a scenario where one is not doing something for the sake of it. Not just going through the motions. It can be as simple as a kid on a computer game trying to beat his high score. It is creating a problem and asking the child to find a solution. It is creating a scenario where the youngster will have to fail first before they can succeed. If the task is so easy that the child can do it 100% of the time, then it Is not competitive. If the task is so difficult that they cannot get close to achieving it then again this is not competitive. A competitive environment for golf could be as simple as putting a bunch of beginners together at the end of a lesson and marking them out of 10 for their set up position or for their finishing position. It is not entering a child into a competition that they are ill-equipped to perform in (mentally, technically,or physically).

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of juniors who will shy away from competition for their fear of failure and many protective parents beside them. But what if the child was gently introduced to competition? What if their introduction was just ‘yep I’ll give your set up 7 out of 10’? The most common responses I get from them is ‘why?’ ‘What do I need to do to get more?’ With this scenario, the child has been introduced to dealing with failure and have also experienced dealing with it in a positive way.

On my initial post, one of the ‘thumbs up’ feedback comments I received was ‘Kids need to learn to lose’, and I could not agree more. Those who shy away from competition really struggle in dealing with failure, they struggle in dealing with losing, and introducing those kids to a competitive environment would, in my view, strongly enhance their development as a human being.