Most coaches assume that athletes already know what “competition” means and how to engage in it. We propose, in contrast, that competition is often misunderstood and that coaches need to intentionally teach about it, and help their athletes come to appreciate its purpose and values. Social scientists, too, have often misunderstood competition and, as a result, have frequently concluded that it leads to such negative outcomes as hostility, prejudice and aggression. To clarify the meaning of competition, it is helpful to distinguish it from a related process that can also occur within a contest. In keeping with the word’s etymology, we define competition as: a form of partnership with an opponent that enacts an enjoyable quest for excellence.In contrast, when participants view the contest not as a partnership for excellence, but as a miniature battle or war, contesting should be designated de-competition. De-competition is a separate, distinguishable process with its own dynamics. The distinction between competition and de-competition has significant and far-reaching practical implications, since the two processes tap different motives, focus on different goals, foster a different type of relationship with opponents, lead to different approaches to rules and officials, stimulates different types of emotions, and promote different ideas about what an ideal contest entails. When coaches deliberately teach and foster true competition, competition can be reclaimed for excellence, ethics, and enjoyment.
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