Competitiveness caused by brain chemistry, past experiences


Matt Johnson

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Matt Johnson has been competitive since he was a kid, but his competitiveness doesn’t end when he hangs up his helmet and takes off his BG jersey.

“It started when I was little and I get more and more competitive each year,” Johnson, a junior and University football player said.

Johnson said he’s not only competitive on the field, where he played as BG quarterback last season, but also in the classroom, while playing video games with friends and in other areas of his life.

“I like to be the best no matter what I’m doing,” he said.

Johnson’s determination to be the best and his competitiveness can be explained a few ways.

“We generally see two primary things going on [when people are competitive],” said Vikki Krane, professor of sport psychology at the University. “One, people that want to win, and two, people that want to work toward improvement.”

Johnson said he think’s the best part of competition is that “you get better everyday because you’re going up against someone who wants to beat you.”

“It brings the best out of you,” he said.

Part of the motivation to compete may be biological.

Dopamine is triggered in the brain when people seek competitive situations, said Verner Bingman, distinguished research professor in psychology at the University.

“It explains why they enjoy it,” he said.

When people compete to get better, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to win, Krane said.

People’s attitudes toward competition can be influenced by how they grew up and how the people around them acted in relation to sport, she said.

“It differs based on coaches’ philosophy and what the coach tells you to do,” Krane said.

Coaches could say it’s important to “win at all costs,” or say that if the team didn’t win that it “doesn’t mean you didn’t do well,” she said.

When athletes are encouraged to win at all costs, they may be willing to behave in ways that don’t involve good sportsmanship, Krane said.

Krane said at the college level, competitiveness is assumed if students are athletes. However, if a person’s family is not supportive of participation, whether the athlete wins or loses, people may not stick with a sport until college, she said.

“The longer you’re in a sport, the more competitive you’re likely to become,” Krane said.

From a young age, football taught Johnson to be competitive. And now he’s hooked, win or lose.

“I think you’re even more competitive when you lose because you don’t want that feeling,” he said.