The fear of competing against your friends


“The biggest concern with female athletes is they don’t naturally compete. And so I think a part of what we do here exceptionally well that separates us from other programs is we train them to compete.” ~ Anson Dorrance, Head Coach of Women’s Soccer at North Carolina

Eleven female athletes came to the weight room last night. Their sport requires them to sprint, change directions, and do it faster than the opponent, so naturally we tried to re-create that environment. The first drill we did was simple:

Two groups each stood behind a row of four hurdles. When I said “go,” one athlete from each group raced sideways through the hurdles, pivoted 90 degrees, and sprinted to the finish line. Since they were self-refereeing, the athlete who won had to let me know.  First team to ten wins.

Halfway through I stopped the drill and asked, “What’s the purpose of this drill?”




“Yes, those are the goals of the drill, but not the purpose. What’s the purpose of the drill?”

“Meaningful competition,” a junior said on the very next guess.

I was just looking for “competition.” That she added the word “meaningful” was somewhat stunning. But yes, the purpose of the drill was to get better at competing. It’s not hard for the female athlete to run through hurdles, and it’s not hard for her to sprint. But it’s often hard for her to compete against her teammates.

In telling me she won, she had to acknowledge that she beat someone else. It’s easy to do against a rival school, but terrifying when it’s her friend.

The purpose of the drill was to beat your teammate without remorse. That’s competition. The other purpose was to create an environment where that behavior is expected, not repressed.

That’s meaningful.


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