Competitiveness and Cooperation in Sports

Have you ever been in a competitive sports setting? Today, we're looking at the differences between a competitive and cooperative sports atmosphere. We'll also consider the consequences of both extremes.
Competitiveness and Cooperation in Sports

Last update: 25 September, 2019

The difference between competitiveness and cooperative becomes obvious in extreme cases. It goes without saying that these two attitudes can coexist, but achieving good balance calls for hard work and experience. When a sports setting is solely one or the other, the players often lack the support they need to reach their goals.

While it might seem as if competitiveness and cooperation are two opposing concepts, the road to success actually needs them both. They have entirely different characteristics but understanding how to use them together is extremely important.

Competitiveness and cooperation: what are they?

First off, there are two ways of approaching sports and life. You can apply these perspectives to any sector in your life and they’re a way of handling group work. Depending on the dynamics of the setting, these ways of thinking can influence how a team, family or even a group of friends work.


You can think of competitiveness as the sacred flame in the world of sport. The concept covers rivalry and the thirst to win. It aches to overcome; competitiveness brings competitors before their objective and pushes them to reach for it.

This trait is closely intertwined with sport and teams become competitive when they put up a good fight against a worthy opponent. Many athletes feel competitive from a young age and they use it as a means to overcome obstacles both inside and outside of their sport.


As with competitiveness, cooperation covers any activity that isn’t performed individually. To cooperate is to unite forces with others to reach a goal.

Thus, cooperation is a fundamental pillar for all humans because living in a society implies having to interact effectively together.

Differences between a competitive and cooperative atmosphere

In sports, certain instances imply both competitiveness and cooperation. For example, a team might always have an extremely competitive player while another focuses more on uniting the team by assigning roles that create a group structure.

Every sport has its own dynamics, making it difficult to specify distinctive traits. However, we can still list off the biggest differences between the two atmospheres.

  • Team: while personal competitiveness is always beneficial, how competitive a team is as a whole depends on their level of cooperation. Thus, cooperative and competitiveness differ in the levels they manifest in players and as a team.
competitiveness team

  • Individuality: whether it’s earning a spot on a team or beating their rivals, athletes will always have an urge to overcome their goals. But a player’s ability to cooperate with their team is also fundamental as many sports are team sports. But a solely competitive player only concentrates on his or her personal goals. On the other hand, a cooperative player strives for team goals.
  • Type of atmosphere: the official and unofficial rules of a team create the team’s atmosphere. An overly competitive atmosphere will likely feature players that outplay their teammates by a long-shot. On the other hand, cooperative teams will reach goals together but no player will shine more than the others.

The coach’s role in creating a competitive and cooperative atmosphere

Coaches usually have the responsibility of establishing team rules but how can they create an atmosphere through rules and guidelines? Simply put, if coaches award solely competitive behaviors, the players will progressively learn to prioritize competitiveness. Or, if the coach awards cooperative actions more than competitive ones, the players will learn to play more cooperatively instead.

Competitiveness: the consequences of extreme atmospheres

There are many consequences that can result from an extreme atmosphere. But to summarize, you can say that a polarized atmosphere will reap all the benefits of their singular trait while losing all the benefits of the other as well. Let’s take a look at the following examples:

  • Solely competitive atmospheres: when athletes set the bar high and only focus on winning, they can either find the motivation or lose interest in the game. Let’s look at a soccer example: if players put too much importance on winning titles, they forget about the rest. As a consequence, we often see burnouts and players leaving the game.
  • Solely cooperative atmospheres: meanwhile, in cooperative atmospheres, every player understands that there’s something bigger and more important than themselves. But the problem comes when excessive cooperation snuffs out their competitive fire. Continuing with our soccer example: if the players on a team disregard their personal development and receive the same amount of playing time regardless of their level, a team can’t expect great results either.

Competitive and cooperative atmosphere: the key lies in a balance

The differences between competitiveness and cooperation won’t make them as incompatible as water and oil. Coaches actually emphasize that a good team atmosphere strengthens group goals.

And teams can create that atmosphere when their players fight for a spot while also, regardless of victory or defeat, supporting their teammates unconditionally. Thus, both qualities are important because players also need to focus on personal development in order to achieve group goals.

Competitiveness balance

Individual sports

Individual sports aren’t an exception. Cooperation is also a fundamental aspect in any kind of teamwork.

Players should remember that, despite being the only one out there, they have a whole team behind them, supporting them. Similar to the case of team sports, excessive competitiveness against rivals creates strong feelings that vary wildly after a defeat or victory.

We need to understand both competitiveness and cooperation in order to reach our goals. Rivalry plays a crucial role in sport and eliminating it isn’t the solution. But we should know how to enjoy the game and keep the passion alive instead of being tormented by it.

It might interest you...
The Best Sports to Practice when you’re a Teenager
Fit People
Read it in Fit People
The Best Sports to Practice when you’re a Teenager

There are so many sports to practice when you're a teenager. If your child wants to start, find out which sports are the best ones to practice.

    • Gjesdal, S., Haug, E. M., & Ommundsen, Y. (2019). A Conditional Process Analysis of the Coach-Created Mastery Climate, Task Goal Orientation and Competence Satisfaction in Youth Soccer: The Moderating Role of Controlling Coach Behavior. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 31(2), 203-217.
    • Gjesdal, S., Stenling, A., Solstad, B. E., & Ommundsen, Y. (2019). A study of coach-team perceptual distance concerning the coach-created motivational climate in youth sport. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 29(1), 132-143.
    • Ryuh, Y., Choi, P., Oh, J., Chen, C.-C., & Lee, Y. (2019). Impact of Inclusive Soccer Program on Psychosocial Development of Children with and without Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities.