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  • Writer's pictureThe Show Circuit

What Makes Some People More Competitive?

We all know the kind of person who ALWAYS has to win, whether they are in the show ring or sports arena or playing cards, it’s a defining part of their personality. But what makes them so different from the person who can play and just enjoy the game win or lose?

By Sharla Ishmael

It’s a question I think about a lot as I sit in the bleachers and watch my daughter’s basketball games and practices – why doesn’t this kid or that one who has so much potential care more or work harder? To be clear, it’s not my daughter I wonder about. That girl was born with a competitive streak that is wide and deep. You try to tie her up in a jump ball, you better be ready for her to sling you on the floor. She weighs about 125 pounds and 120 of it is heart. Play a friendly game of Monopoly with her? Pfft… it’s a blood sport if Josie is at the table.

My other child likes to win too, but Brooks can usually say, “It’s just a game” and go on with life. So how can two kids raised in the same house by the same parents be so different?

The Olympics are on at the moment – always a fascinating window into man/woman’s ability to push themselves past any rational notion of physical limits as well as the beauty of humankind’s desire to be the very best, overcoming every obstacle and rival. So, what separates these athletes from the ones sitting at home watching them? Is it raw talent or is it something less measurable like grit, work ethic, mental toughness, luck, ambition or support?

My friends on social media had a lot to say on the topic. For instance, show mom and fellow basketball mom Jennifer Carrico said, “It may be how you are brought up. I also think it's somewhat genetic. Some people are just more passionate about certain things in life and competitiveness is just natural. And if the person knows what it will take to attain that win, then they have a leg up on others.”

Livestock photographer and horsewoman Nancy Pruitt added, “DNA can, without a doubt, override upbringing. I believe you either possess the desire to excel or you don't.”

On the flip side, mom, grandmother and former graphic designer Betty Baird had this to add, “I had four children and they were all different, some very competitive and some could care less, so I don't believe it is genetic.”

Another veteran mom of the show ring and gym, Caryn Vaught added, “We think it’s due to your social upbringing. If you are surrounded by competition growing up, you have a tendency to be competitive.”

Then there is my friend from New Mexico, Kelly Boney, a rancher who has a different perspective many of us can appreciate. “For me it was a combination of a fellow 4-H member whose parents did all the work, beating me at demonstrations and a participation ribbon at the County Fair. The 4-H member spurred me to do more research, spend countless hours writing and rewriting speeches and memorizing…. I finally won the Public Speaking contest; by that time, I had bigger and better goals. The participation ribbon always reminded me I never wanted one of those again, LOL! Granted it was for baking and I did give that up.”

And high school friend, Lindy Wells, who is and always has been a very competitive horsewoman, now in the cutting arena, was just as honest, “I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like to lose AT ALL. If you don’t mind losing, you never improve.”

My former co-worker, Roxanne Erramouspe, pointed out, “As a teacher for 20 years and a parent for almost that long, I will say that so much of it has to do with the expectations of a person’s parents/guardians and teachers. There’s a difference between ‘doing your best’ and ‘doing whatever it takes to get the job done.’ The true competitor chooses the latter.”

Another good point from advertising executive Kathy Cornett, “I think it reflects a little insecurity and the need to prove oneself to oneself. The winners I know may win in competitive environments, but they also give themselves trophies for little wins through the day. I would look at birth order and family modeling as well.”

Most of you reading this will likely know this lady from the show road. Ethel Kelley added, “For me it has always been an overwhelming desire to excel, to be the best — the prize is seldom as great as the pride in having achieved it!”

Another great lady from a long-time show steer family legacy, Theresa Pritchard made a good point, “Upbringing. Learning that anyone can compete, but to be a true competitor it takes hard work, desire and hopefully the passion grows. The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

And fellow Aggie/photographer/mom Erin Worrell probably summed up a lot of these thoughts very well. “Drive and passion, either it’s there or it’s not depending on personality. But how that drive and passion are developed through upbringing, encouragement and experiences is very much a contributing factor.”

My friends also mentioned a whole laundry list of other factors: birth order, ability to perform under pressure, ambition, goals, work ethic, etc. But when you’re analyzing what makes somebody great at a sport or showing or whatever, you must also answer this question – what drives the top competitors to continue to get better once they are already at the pinnacle of their field?

In my mind, the athlete who most personifies the word competitor must be Michael Jordan. You can argue whether Kobe or LeBron or whomever is more talented but nobody ever out-competed Jordan. He co-wrote a book with Mark Vancil titled “Driven from Within,” which chronicles not only his basketball career but also his relationship with Nike and how they worked together to create his eponymous shoe line that became a second empire for each of them.

“When my play started providing me with rewards, then I wanted to prove I deserved them. I never felt the desire to rest on what I had accomplished. I never felt like I deserved to drive a Bentley when I got my first contract, or live in a mansion. Those things might be symbols of success to some people, but there are a lot of people who confuse symbols with actual success.

“Commitment cannot be compromised by rewards,” Jordan explained. “Excellence isn’t a one-week or one-year ideal. It’s a constant. There will be days when you don’t feel on top of your game, or meetings in which you aren’t your best but your commitment remains constant.

“Money never drove me. Sure, I wanted to be successful. I wanted the nicer things that success brings. But my passion was pure. The way I played, and the way I go about things, has never had anything to do with money. …I wanted to be more than a slightly better version of somebody else.”

His co-author Vancil wrote, “What seems apparent now more than it ever did while he was playing is that the most remarkable aspects to Michael Jordan are those that can neither be seen nor measured.”

One measure of a great competitor is how he/she affects those around them. In a Psychology Today article on competitiveness, another winning NBA player emphasized how talent is not enough.

“‘Great players can have great impacts, but great players with great attitudes have really great impacts," says Malik Rose, a current New York Knicks forward who won two NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs. "When a star comes along and spreads his intensity and desire to the other players, it's huge.

“When the Spurs captured those titles in 1999 and 2003, the team was led by a pair of players, David Robinson and Tim Duncan, with Hall of Fame skills, Hall of Fame work ethics, and Hall of Fame attitudes. They led by example—hustling after every loose ball and playing each game as if it were vital to existence. “‘That's why we won," Rose says. "Everyone followed those guys.’”

Furthermore, a lasting legacy in the game, whatever that game is, is probably the highest compliment anyone can give to an ultra-competitive person.

Take, for instance, Shaun White – America’s legendary snowboarder who won our hearts as a teenaged “Flying Tomato,” winning gold in 2006 and again in 2010. In 2014 he failed to medal and then suffered a terrible injury in Australia last fall that gave him 62 stitches in his face – and no doubt a mental obstacle to overcome, on his way back to the Olympics in 2018.

If you got to watch his gold medal-winning halfpipe run, in which he had to give the best performance of his career to beat back his younger competitors, it was easy to see by his overwhelming emotion this win probably meant more to him than all the others…the one that proved at age 31 he was still the best in a sport he helped define. But it’s more than that.

Columnist Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post gave the best perspective on White’s comeback: “That’s not just how you validate a reputation. That’s how you elevate a sport. Sometimes, there’s a difference between dominating and elevating. An all-time great can happen to own a lesser era, yet fail to advance the game. To elevate requires a combination of dominant performance and a collection of challengers with the ability and chutzpah to test a great one’s limits. Of the many gifts White has bestowed upon snowboarding, this is the most important: He inspired future generations to come after him. And they’re making their charge now.”

How to Be Competitive

By Ed Latimore

Most people think they’re competitive but they aren’t. They just like to win. Everyone likes to win. A true competitor is a rare breed. Enjoying the feeling of crossing the finish line first doesn’t make you competitive. It’s what happens during the race that ultimately determines if you’re actually a competitor.

--Always give 110%.

--Compare yourself only to your old self.

--Competitive people never make excuses.

--Competitive people give credit when credit is due.

--The competitor never dwells on the past.

From John Brandon, Contributing editor with

6 Traits of People Who are Unusually Competitive

1. When other people achieve great success, it motivates you to work even harder.

2. When you get an idea, your first thought is to start a company.

3. The biggest thing that crushes you in daily life is losing.

4. You see competition as a welcome challenge.

5. Failure motivates you to make specific changes.

6. All of your friends are competitive.


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