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How to Win

Seeking Out Competition

The other day I had the occasion to walk past the famous West 4th Street playground in Lower Manhattan in New York City. The playground has earned international renown for attracting some of the best basketball players in the world.

You can bet that over the years, thousands of players have shown up at the park and promptly announced, “I’ve got winner.” That brief sentence sums up how playgrounds help develop great players.

In the “I’ve got winner” format, you must either win or sit out. Players with fire don’t like to sit out, and so they figure out how to stay. They work. They observe. They learn.

These players proceed to successful careers because high-stakes games don’t faze them. They have been facing challenges for years. Win or leave is a powerful motivator.

Great coaches and great athletes use the playground model by building high stakes into their practices. Anson Dorrance, coach of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team, creates a highly competitive atmosphere. When his athletes battle each other for playing time, they are also preparing to face top opponents. Dorrance says is this competitive cauldron is a major factor in his program’s great success.

Competition — whether against others or against the self — brings out the best in an athlete. It is the only way to improve.

Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson had a relentless desire to compete. There’s a story told of the first day he learned to ice skate. Like most beginners, he had his share of falls. Before long, however, Robinson began to improve, and soon he wanted to race. He found an opponent and lost the race. He demanded a rematch, and lost again. The pattern continued until, sure enough, Robinson won. He thanked his opponent, saying, “I had to beat someone at something today.”

If you can seek out competition the way Robinson did, you can become great.


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