Training Competitors – Part 1

Many athletic directors are tasked with building, rebuilding, or maintaining a “competitive program” at their schools. To do this requires careful attention to detail in so many areas. believes that an AD can have all the proper policy, procedures, personnel, and programs in place and still fall short of a “competitive program.” We believe the best way to achieve a “competitive program” is to start at the source: the athletes. If you want to be successful, then you need to train competitors. Join us for a look at the first in a two part series about how to teach your athletes to compete.

Define Competition

You may have noticed that we put “competitive program” in quotes every time it was used. The reason is because the term “competitive program” is very nebulous and could really mean a lot of things.

Many programs consider themselves to be competitive because they hang banners. Championships are great (we all want one or two), but we would like to see what the athletes do after they graduate. Do they continue to walk with the Lord? Do they “win” in life? Or are they defined by their high school careers?

If you want to train competitors in your athletic department then you must first define what competition is.

Coach Dennis Scott in his thesis, The Corruption of Competition, cites Sport and Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship authors Clifford and Feezel when they offer this description of competition:

“On one level, competition does involve winners and losers; and, more specifically, if one side wins, the other necessarily loses.  But on another level, competition is an opportunity for the development, exercise, and expression of human excellence.  Trying to win means trying to do the best I can at the game, trying to be as excellent as possible in all of the ways that the game calls for.  But it is precisely my opponent’s effort to excel, my opponent’s effort to perform better than I do, that gives me the opportunity to strive for excellence.  By the same token, I make it possible for my opponent to strive for excellence.  In that sense I ought to be thankful for a great opponent.  On one level opponents “oppose” each other; on another level they are engaged in a mutual striving for excellence.

Training competitors for the field or court requires a concerted effort from the athletic department (director and coaches) to teach athletes to view competition in this way.

You as the AD may even need to train your coaches in what it means to be truly competitive.

Competition should not be a desire to win. Competition should be a desire to compete in an excellent way.

Explain and emphasize this to your athletes daily and hold them to this standard of competition.

Rewire Your “Athletes”

Every AD is familiar with these kids. They’re the “athletes.” The stars upon which the team revolves. Whether you’re taking over a program going into your 25th year at the same school, you’ll deal with these “athletes.”

By “athletes” we mean the kids who are great at their sport and have been for some time. By “athletes” we mean the kids whose starting spot is a foregone conclusion. By “athletes” we mean kids who are used to being the best and are rarely challenged.

Sorry if the “athletes” sound disdainful, because we don’t mean it that way. Many of these “athletes” are great kids and huge assets to your athletic department.

However, in seeking to train competitors every participant must be challenged.

Many times these “athletes” have physical gifts that have made athletic participation a bit easier for them from the get-go. Whether it is height, strength, or speed these kids have excelled from day one. Because of this success (in some cases dominance) they are told that they are “athletes.” While this statement may be true in some sense, it can lead to improper assumptions about themselves and their skills.

In his article, The Secret to Raising Smart KidsCarol S. Dweck explains the dangers of praising children as superior for natural intelligence or ability:

They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. … such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery oriented children [true competitors] on the other hand, think intelligence [skill and athleticism] is malleable and can be developed through education [coaching] and hard work [practice].”

This is the classic fixed mindset vs. growth mindset argument. To have a truly competitive athletic department, you must rewire the mindset of your “athletes.” Teach them that failure is often the first stop on the road to success.

In order to do this, you must encourage them and their coaches to step outside their comfort zone and look to seek fulfillment outside of their own abilities.


Check back next week as we look at other ways to train competitors in your athletic department!

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *