Confession: Back when I was figure skating competitively, I didn’t actually enjoy competition. I loved to train and perfect new jumps, spins and footwork, but I dreaded competing. I easily got nervous, would psych myself out and suffered from a lot of anxiety and insecurity. As a result, while I had a lot of natural talent, I wasn’t able to compete at the level I wanted to.
If I only knew then what I know (or, am starting to know) now.
Today, I love the thrill of a little competition – and I define it as both against other people and myself. Whether I’m facing a new tennis opponent, pushing to keep up with a strong group of skiers, or pumping myself up to endure an uncomfortable yoga pose or run, competition has taught me valuable lessons and enriched my adult life in big ways.
Here are the top benefits I’ve experienced from injecting some healthy competition into my life:
It’s made me physically tougher.
I’m physically tougher now at 36 than I was at 17. One of my biggest realizations has been how much my body is capable of (hint: it’s waaay more than I ever thought). To get the results I want, I’ve learned that I need to push just a bit past the point of comfort. That may mean some serious heart-pounding, extra sweat or burning muscles, but guess what? You get through it, the extra push may be what you need to reach your goals, and the sense of accomplishment afterward is freaking awesome. And, the next time you start to feel a little discomfort, you don’t panic because you know your body’s true limits. (note: I’m not talking about pushing through injuries or major pain here … that’s something different entirely, and not recommended!)
It’s given me major mental fortitude.
Discipline. Patience. Confidence. Resilience. Grit. All things that competition has helped me develop in big ways. I truly believe that competition is 60% physical and 40% mental. Some days, when I’m tired or cranky, it’s more like 40/60! And just like a bicep or quad, the more you exercise your mental muscle, the stronger it becomes. For example, I used to go into a downward rage spiral when I’d make a mistake or start to struggle in a tennis match. But over the past few years, I’ve worked my mental game to the point where I’m (usually) in control of it, and the results are incredible. And as a side benefit – I can apply all of these things to my life outside sports and fitness. Co-worker pisses me off? It’s cool, I can handle him. Tough negotiation? It’s fine, I can be patient. Mastering your mental game makes you feel like you can handle anything.
It’s shown me the value of teamwork and community.
I spent a good chunk of my childhood with a relatively solitary sport in figure skating. I never played team sports and training to me was about working hard – alone – on the ice or in the gym. As an adult, I’ve discovered the joys of being on a tennis team, practicing yoga with a roomful of sweaty yogis, or going to a challenging spin class with a friend. There are so many cools things about it … you get to motivate and cheer each other on, you get to draw on the energy that a roomful of people creates, and you get a sense of collective spirit as everyone bands together toward the same goal. The parallels to everyday life and work are obvious!