Mental Toughness and The Competitive Nature of Conflict


“A general in all of his projects should not think so much about what he wishes to do as what his enemy will do; he should never underestimate this enemy, but he should put himself in his place to appreciate difficulties and hindrances the enemy could interpose; his plans will be deranged at the slightest event if he has not foreseen everything and if he has not devised means with which to surmount the obstacles.” ~Frederick The Great

Competition is defined as; the act of competing, rivalry for supremacy, a prize etc. It is also described as; rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter. The opposition offered by a competitor or competitors is yet another, definition.

The positive side of the competitive mindset is in that helps in our ability to adapt and persevere. A competitor will find a way to win. Competitors take bad breaks and small failures and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. While those who do not have the will to compete use these same small failures and bad breaks as a reason to give up. Most winners possess a competitive mindset and always strive to win. Failure is not an option is the mantra often touted by those of us who compete to win. Obviously this mental toughness and the ability to compete is a crucial factor in the law enforcement profession but like any other attribute there is always a reverse effect.

Competition is a powerful attribute to possess but when the drive to win has you only considering your own individual goals and objectives, it leaves you forcing forward without considering your opponent or adversary goals and objectives. Competition by its very definition works contrary to our own ideas of winning. For example; as you rapidly respond to a disturbance and pull up to the front of the house, exit your patrol car and head towards the front door (a commonly used, yet ill advised tactic) your competitor or adversary, has both heard and seen your arrival and has his own ideas and plans about how this will end. He has a say in the outcome of the encounter. Your competitive nature to get there and help resolve the situation may lead you to a false sense of urgency and have you over confident and walking into a trap or ambush on ground known well to your competitor. Does your competitive mindset and rush to get there and do something help or hinder your efforts? Who has the position of advantage here? How many cops have been injured or killed in front of a house or at the front door? I’ll answer this last question. Way Too Many!

It is essential to know and attempt to understand our competition, his strengths and weaknesses, while at the same time, being aware not over estimating these same factors. What resources are available to him or her and how he or she will use them? What are his or her goals and objectives? How is he or she going to react to our planned actions? Understanding our competitor is crucial to our success on the street. As Sun Tzu reminds us; “know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will not be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chance of winning and losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.” This advice Sun Tzu offers is over 2,500 years old, isn’t it time we heed his wisdom?

We must never lose sight of the fact that competition is a two-sided coin, a double edged sword when it’s not balanced with thinking and sound tactical judgments. Observation, orientation, decision and action cycle always applies as we interact and handle dynamic encounters. As COL John Boyd said, in his discourse on winning and losing; “decisions without actions are pointless. Actions without decisions are reckless.”

As we compete to win on the street, never forget, violent conflict is not like a game or a sport. In a sport we compete to score points or to win a trophy. On the street we compete to resolve conflict that’s full of emotions, emotions that make the outcomes so much more complex and unpredictable, outcomes that can mean the difference between life and death. Be sure to stay positive and compete to win BUT never lose sight of the changing circumstances and the fact that your competitor in violent encounters has his eye on the prize as well.

“Never despise your enemy, whoever he is. Try to find out about his weapons and means, how he uses them and fights. Research into his strengths and weaknesses.” ~Field Marshal Prince Aleksandr V. Suvorov, Russian Army

Stay Oriented!