The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Competition

The current Chess World Champion (the highest honour a chess player can achieve), Magnus Carlsen said “One of the things that first motivated me to take up chess as a child was the desire to beat my elder sister” in an interview with The Telegraph.

We all know that competition can get heated, whether its board games with our family, playground games with our friends in primary school, or promotions at work during our career progression. Competition can be healthy for our minds as it can provide challenge and problem solving opportunities. However, when does healthy competition turn unhealthy?


Healthy competition tends to occur when the competition itself is not about the end result of winning, but gaining other things such as learning more about the subject under consideration, for example, the game of chess.

Maybe beating a personal best, using a technique successfully that has often failed, or bettering yourself in some other way. Understanding some information from a different perspective that you have not been able to outside of competition.

Finally, healthy competition should be about the journey, not the end destination. This journey should not be a frustrating struggle that you derive no joy from and if it ends in a loss, should not be counted as an overall loss but something more to learn from.


This healthy competition can turn unhealthy for a number of reasons but it is important to know the signs in case you feel yourself or see someone you know slipping into it so you can prevent it. After all, unhealthy competition does not result in anything worthwhile or long-lasting such as knowledge or a way to grow.

Competition begins to be unhealthy when one becomes fearful of not winning, losing should never be something to fear as it only provides more opportunity to grow. When it becomes about getting validation from other people, just like anything in life, it turns unhealthy as the competition should only be for the enjoyment of you and your opponent.

When you feel you must win purely to beat someone else and make them feel worse, this is a big sign of unhealthy competition and should not be entered into as it will not result in anything positive and will make a bad situation even worse.

The joy should come from playing the game and enjoying each others company.