Competitive sport and men

Competitive sport and men

Do men use sport to satisfy their competitive instincts, or are they attracted to being part of a team? Are men innately competitive, or have they used sport as a form of protection out of fear of rejection?

Has sport become part of the social fabric which requires a level of knowledge to be accepted in our relationships with family, friends or work colleagues? Are they participating in competitive sport to live up to other people’s expectations? These are just a few of the questions the men below have explored in the context of where sport and competition sit in today’s society and the impact this has on men in their day to day lives.

Richard M shares

A couple of years ago I went on a Management and Leadership training course. The course included a number of activities where one person led a team in competition with other teams. I remember feeling curiously unsettled by this approach. There was something about working together in a team that felt good, but that was coupled with the desire to beat others and somehow the two things felt incongruent. Were we co-operating and collaborating… or were we competing? We were attempting to do both at once it seems.

My recollection of those experiences is that I didn’t perform particularly well and in fact felt quite disturbed and distracted by the desire to win. And even though there was co-operation and collaboration within ‘my’ team, the overriding feeling was one of trying to beat the others.

So what? That’s life isn’t it? Maybe. It may be the way life is particularly in work environments and sports, but is it the way we are? Are we naturally competitive, or is co-operation and collaboration more innate in us?

My sense is that we have bought into the idea of being competitive against our true nature. Working together is natural. And a man who knows who he is has no need to prove himself by competing with others. In truth he is more likely to support other men to be everything they can be… for the benefit of all.

Bernie C shares

Men will say they love their sport because of the camaraderie of being with your mates but in my experience with sport I have noticed there is always something else going on. Men are striving together as a team but also fiercely trying to distinguish themselves as an individual. For me all the aggression and yelling at the umpire took all the fun out of it.

There seems to be a narrow band of behaviour which is accepted in the team which all are contributing to and reinforcing in order to feel the security of being accepted. One of the ways to build camaraderie within the team is to sledge the other team. They’re a bunch of pansies, we are tougher, so we will crush them. Banter, innuendo and accusations fly from both sides, and whether nasty or lighthearted both are designed to bring the other down a peg to gain some psychological advantage. After making this habit a normal way and the other team has gone home, the banter and innuendo gets turned to other teammates; the team camaraderie is exposed as false as the expression of elevating oneself over another is addictive to the insecure. To save the team the banter needs to find another adversary so work colleagues then cop the ridicule.

This energy of competition and supremacy that has been amplified by expression cannot be switched off when you go home and so the family cops it.

The statistics for domestic violence after sport cannot be ignored; the competition that we champion as a good thing has devastating impacts on families every weekend. Yes, not every home has reported abuse that ends up counted in the statistics, but is the energy in the home headed in that direction?

James S shares

As a middle-aged man I am now able to look back on my youth when I played semi-professional football in Australia and see it for what it really was. Back then I enjoyed the accolades from the diehard supporters during the season, which stretched to family and friends and even total strangers when we were winning, for everyone loves a winner, right? I confused this with people genuinely caring for what I was up to but I know now it was just their way as humans of identifying to be identified.

I also kidded myself that I was playing sport to keep fit, for if I wasn’t doing this I would be occupying my time with other activities that might be less beneficial to my health. Once again this could not have been further from the truth. Apart from bashing and pushing my body to its limits on the field, off the field there was a huge drinking culture within the club – as with most teams of that era – which also went hand in hand with a very prevalent womanising culture. The competition on the field had to be equalled if not surpassed off the field.

On the field you were judged by your sporting prowess by supporters as well as those within the team, and off the field competition was rife between each team member as to who had the best car, who could drink the most and who could sleep with (use) the most women. There was a pack mentality that drew you in and offered a form of protection while crushing others on and off the field.

We were abusing our bodies to the extreme so thought nothing of abusing or using anyone else. The need for recognition was always hungry and had to be fed. Looking back I can now say my self-worth was lacking and I was using others to prop myself up. I was being recognised and praised for my actions, no matter what the cost to myself or others, instead of valuing who I was and what I offered the world.

The sport and on field antics was a breeding ground for self-abuse and destruction, all in the name of entertaining others so they could use you to fill a part of their lives that was lacking.

Has anything here changed in the last 30 years? From the numerous reports in the news on elite sportspeople, I will let you make up your own mind.

Mark G shares

I recently attended a rugby premiership 40-year reunion for a team I was once part of. It was a very good team, containing many representative players, of which I was the 'baby' at the age of 19. I thought I had made it in rugby by playing with these guys. My rugby life however was separate to my university and school friends and was just something I happened to be good at.

I never enjoyed the camaraderie, hated the 'banter’ (I was subjected to demeaning comments as the youngest in the team), never participated in celebrations or the drinking culture and never really enjoyed the physicality of the game. Why the hell did I do it? It took an injury from a stray elbow where I lost the feeling in half of my face for six months that led me to reconsider my future. To me this was a sign (and an excuse): I retired at 22.

The only thing I got from rugby was recognition, which to be honest helped on the job front. Why did I need that recognition? Clearly, I did not allow myself to feel that I was enough. There was a degree of insecurity, a lack of self-worth and an acceptable avenue of protection that were papered over by rugby. I feel for me; the sport was about self rather than the whole. This was clear as I did not have true friends in rugby, it was just about what could I get from the sport.

At the reunion I tried to make it about the individual, not the team; about their life, not their achievements; about them as men, not former rugby players. They were responsive to these interactions but as soon as we sat down to dinner, everyone assumed their roles from 40 years ago (sigh, sigh).

Unfortunately, sport provides everyone with an outlet to protect ourselves from the hurts we have and merely delays our evolution as men.

Stephen G shares

It’s been about 6-7 years since I last took part in competitive sport and I have to say I don’t miss it. Moving away from sporting participation revealed to me the deep unsettlement that such competition raised in me. Even now if I get drawn into a conversation about my past endeavours or I reminisce about a particular moment from my days playing football and triathlon, I find myself losing my sense of self to the identification I had with my sporting achievements. A tension arises in me as I recall my time against the clock, that tackle I didn’t make, or that goal I scored. Sport requires us to go seeking recognition, and in my competing I now realise that it was removing myself from my own ease with myself. In this competitive mode I was blind to my actual qualities that are my essence, that exist free from anything I do. Sport hides the fact that I am enough as I am, and that I need no acceptance through sporting endeavour. I feel all men have this same essence.

Competition created an angst and a tension for me because there was always the next moment to overcome, there is always someone better at something to choose to feel less than, always a weakness to be owned by, always self-bashing and hardening and bracing of our body to take on this state of battle that sport asks of us. In this state I removed myself from the sensitivity that is my calling as a man; I became hard and struggled to accept myself.

This became obvious to me once I stopped searching through competing in sport to be seen and acknowledged as a man of value. Searching for our worth through competition, we can never find our true value, for our true worth is unmoved by our actions – it resides within us all the time. And that is more rewarding than any sporting victory. At least that is my experience and what I witness in others whenever I observe sporting competition these days.


What is clear from the insights of the men above is that each of them has experienced a different impact from sport and competition.

The fact is that when men participate in competitive sport there are no winners. The man himself has sacrificed his innate tenderness and openness just to participate. He has also felt the emptiness of crushing an opponent in competition.

It is incumbent on all men to honour themselves first and support their sons in truly feeling what is right for them as tender men in a society that worships sport and competition.

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Competitionself-worthrole models

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