Learning to Be a Competitor on the Field

Female soccer player standing behind goal.

Growing up is a transformative journey fraught with all kinds of pressure. If you’re growing up and female? The pressures are amplified even further by societal expectations. Unfortunately, the normal desires to be liked and fit in are frequently at odds with the requirements for athletic success. Perhaps this accounts for the 51% of girls who quit playing sports by the time they turn 17. Something as simple as calling for the ball can turn into an anxiety-ridden experience leaving you wondering if your tone was ok, if your teammate did not pass to you on purpose because they don’t like you or think you’re good enough – or both. Here’s how you can balance these conflicting expectations.

Redefine Competition

Reframe how you think about competition. Remove any negative connotations and recognize that pushing yourself to go above and beyond in practices and small group training sessions is a sign of the utmost respect for your teammates and coaches. By giving it your all, you’re pushing others to get better, too. It shows respect for them as athletes and as humans who could be doing a million other things instead.

Be Direct...

Arguments and frustrations happen on the pitch, whether in practices or in games. You might snap at a teammate when she doesn’t play you the through ball you wanted or you may feel like you let others down if you miss a shot. A poor game won’t cost you a friendship – or at least, it shouldn’t. If you’re feeling insecure about how you may have come off when calling for a ball or what you said in the heat of the moment, address it directly right away. Your coach should have created an environment that encourages direct and clear communication so let your teammates know how you’re feeling. It may mean copping to coming off harsh and then reaffirming that it comes from a deep passion and affection for the team. If you feel hurt by a teammate’s action, bring it up to start the process of clearing the air. If you’re not sure of how to begin conversations like these, this link is a great resource for figuring out how and when to communicate directly with others.

...and Move On

Once you’ve said your piece, listen for the response. Most of the time, direct communication leads to solutions and can prevent future issues. After it’s been discussed, let it lie and move on. It is impossible to perform your best if you’re worried if so-and-so is still upset with you or if you decide not to pass to her because you’re still mad deep down. The college coaches we’ve talked to at our ID camp and at tournaments told us that they look for players who can appropriately address an issue and move forward, as it eliminates drama and keeps the focus on how to better the team.

Quite frankly, just being nice doesn’t cut it on or off the field. To make the most of every opportunity you have – whether it is in school, on the field, or in your community – you have to give it your all. That’s not to say that being kind is unimportant; of course, it’s essential. However, being successful requires so much more. Demanding the ball on the field doesn’t make you rude and having strong legs doesn’t make you less pretty; it helps you win 50-50 balls and hit the top corner. People won’t think you’re not nice if you outperform them in a game or get a better grade on a math test – and if they do, they’re not your people. Remember who you are and what you want your life to look like and behave accordingly, without apology.

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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at

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