Being competitive is basic human nature. It's a part of all of us, whether you like it or not.
Imagine you're in formation with your opponent directly in front of you. You have studied them beforehand, trying to figure out all their weak points. They have been talking trash about you in the press, telling you how bad they're going to beat you.
It has raised your competitive ire so much you have thought about nothing except beating them.
This mindset helps and hurts. It helps because beating your opponent will help your team, but it hurts because you're focusing on their game and not yours. Losing focus and not looking at the bigger picture may hurt in the long run.
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Sometimes as a fitness business owner or trainer, being competitive will drive you to greater heights or have you spinning your wheels in place. Here, we will go into the positives and negatives of competition as a personal trainer/fitness business owner so you can use your competitive drive to your advantage.
When Your Job is Dependent on Results
Coming from a background of coaching high school athletes, driving my athletes and myself to be better, I thrived on being competitive. When your job is dependent on results, you use everything in your power (excluding cheating) to win. Now, winning is great, but there were times where winning may have overtaken learning.
Were my athletes (and me) learning and growing or just obsessed with winning? In hindsight, it was a 50-50 proposition.
I bought this attitude into my training business, where I've been an owner and trainer for the past 10 years. Walking around with a chip on the shoulder, still feeling I've got so much to prove, allows me to stay motivated and be competitive in my field.
And I see a lot of people at the top who are like this. But in business, sometimes your biggest strength can come back to bite you—it's the reason why you must use your competitive streak for good and be mindful when it's not working in your favor.
Are You Too Competitive?
I am one of the most competitive people you will meet. Sometimes it helps. For example, some trainers or owners want nothing more than to take your clients and ideas and make them their own. There are a lot of other people going after the training job you want.
So no, I'm not turning this into a Stuart Smalley feel-good article. Success will not fall into your lap because you are "special." You must work for it and put your best foot forward. Being competitive with the looming threat someone might beat you will help keep you focused on the job at hand—exactly how being competitive will work for you and provide you with the internal motivation and a drive to do better. But be careful not to play the comparison game here and focus on your strengths and not your competitors.
And much like a training partner pushing you to greater heights, having a friendly wager with a fellow business owner or trainer who can sign more members or clients is where "friendly competition" can help. You can learn from each other what works and what doesn't, hopefully pushing both of you to greater heights.
But being too competitive can hurt when it comes to building a personal training business also.
How Competition Hurts
Some people need competition—the need to be competitive with someone or something else to get them up and about. Even the great Michael Jordan used to make up stories about other players to get up for a game. And there's nothing wrong with that, but you're not a professional athlete.
You're a trainer or business owner trying to make a living.
Although there is competition for clients and dollars, the real competition is within you and not the person trying to take your clients. This is cliche but compete against yourself and try to beat the person you were yesterday.
Don't be easy on yourself, but also don't be too hard on yourself either.
Focusing entirely on how to beat your competition while not improving yourself and your business is one way being too competitive can hurt.
It Can Bring Out Negative Emotions
I may have mentioned I'm very competitive. I'm like an athlete in that I make up stories in my head to motivate myself. Oh, they are saying:
"Detric can't step up as a leader."
"Detric is a good trainer but can't step up a business owner."
"We are done now that so and so business has come to the area."
And the list goes on and on.
But having this chip on my shoulder, thinking how other people are thinking of me probably hurts more than it helps, especially at this point in my career. If you focus on wanting other people to do poorly or play this negative narrative in your head, it may backfire and lead to a scarcity mindset.
You Will Lose Focus
Focusing on the competition will cause you to lose focus on the people you serve. The people you serve will need all of your attention, and this is especially important if you own a business.
Owning a business means you're juggling a million hats. You have your trainer hat, human resources hat, sales and marketing hat, and your fireman hat. Taking all your energy just to try to beat the gym down the street will take away from all the hats you're wearing.
What You Should Focus On
You should focus on your effort, attitude, and the people who trust you.
If competition comes and takes your people, you have a few ways to look at this. Learn why they left and how you can get better.
Spend more energy trying to double down on keeping the people who stay and getting more like them. In my experience, our culture improved when competition came to our area because the people who left were not a good fit for our business. Plus, doubling down on my ideal clients led to improved marketing and happier staff.
The competitive mindset in training and business can be taken too far and hurt you. You still must be competitive and realize there are people and businesses coming to take your spot, money, and clients.
Find the sweet spot to use your competitive drive to your advantage.
Detric Smith (CSCS, ACSM EP-C, PN-1) is the owner of Results Performance Training in Williamsburg, Virginia. He has over 20 years of experience as a personal trainer. You can read more about his work at detricsmith.com.