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Winning an Athletic Contest

by Ron Kurtus (23 May 1999)

If you are involved in competitive sports, you probably are interested in winning those athletic contests. There are a number of factors involved besides physical skill.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Definition of athletic contests

First of all, we should define what we mean by athletic contests. That is any competition between individuals or teams where only one wins. The contest is controlled by certain rules and scoring.

The criteria for victory is primarily based on physical skill, strength, coordination, and endurance, but it also includes factors of strategy, teamwork, intelligence, and psychological strength. Added to this is the important will to win.

Driving force to win

People want and need to achieve goals. They are driven to gain money, goods, services and other rewards for their work.

Although the driving force in wanting to win includes these motivations, there is another drive and that is to prove yourself better than the other person. Much of this is based on one's ego, but it is also important in establishing status and pecking order.

Some people want to win so bad that they will put out an extraordinary effort to achieve that goal. They have to be number one—no matter what.

Factors in winning

The factors that contribute to success in winning an athletic contest are physical attributes, strategies, knowledge of the rules, psychological factors, and the will to win.

Physical attributes

In athletic contests, physical attributes are in the forefront. Speed, strength, coordination and endurance are important. There are other physical traits that help, depending on the sport. In a sport like basketball, height, jumping ability and the size of your hands are valuable. In American football and Japanese sumo wrestling, weight is an asset.


Even in straightforward comparisons of physical attributes, such as a foot race or weight-lifting contest, there are strategies used to gain an edge on the opponent and better the chances for a victory.

Game plan

For every activity, you must have a plan of action how to achieve your goal. A runner plans out her race. In a structured game, there may be a number of plays that must be learned. A golfer must plan out how to approach various holes on the golf course.

The game plan is done before the game and should be followed as closely as possible. Of course, some degree of flexibility and improvising is often allow in many plans.

Knowledge of the rules

Knowing the rules of the game is very important. I'm sure you have seen contests where an athlete was disqualified because he broke some rule of the game.

Likewise, in sports such as basketball, a good coach will use the rules concerning time outs and fouls to the advantage of his team.

Psychological factors

Another strategy involves the use of psychological factors. A person or team will often get "psyched up" for a game, improving their performance. An example of this is when the coach puts a newspaper clipping about the team on the bulletin board before the game. The home court advantage is another use of this.

Likewise, efforts are often made to discourage the other team through psychological ploys. Some players taunt opponents in an effort to get them angry, so they will not perform as planned.

Will to win

The will to win seems to be such an important factor in determining champions. I've seen cases where an athlete was completely beaten, yet he somehow willed the victory by using special determination. I've seen others who were winning and became so over-confident that they threw victory out the window.

That tremendous will to win seems to be inborn, but it also can be learned. If you are going to compete, you must give it your all and never give up.


The challenge, rewards and proving yourself the best are driving forces in an athletic competition. Physical attributes, strategies and the will to win are the major factors in achieving victory.

The thrill of victory... the agony of defeat

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