How Do I Deal With An Overly-Competitive Friend?

Got a question? E-mail me to submit a question, and to read future Miriam’s Advice Well columns, visit weekly on Thursday.

Dear Miriam,

I have a friend who has always been strangely competitive about unimportant things, like getting restaurant reservations, playing video games, or even reminiscing about grades from high school (we’re in our late 20s). He just asked me to join a recreational kickball team with him for the spring, and while it sounds like fun, I’m worried about his sportsmanship. How can I be his friend on the team while also keeping enough distance between us if things start to get awkward around winning and losing?


Friendly Competition


Dear Friendly,

Why do you hang out with this guy? Because seriously, he does not sound like a lot of fun. I wonder if you’ve ever mentioned to him that his competitiveness gets on your nerves, or if you’ve ever tried to steer a conversation away from comparisons when he starts down that path. If you haven’t already, now could be the time.

You could start with something that’s not actually about him, like, “Hey Dave, thanks for the invitation to the kickball league. It sounds like a lot of fun. Do you know anything about how competitive the league is?” You could mention that you’d be looking for something fun and chill, a way to meet new people maybe, or get some exercise, not to dominate the kickball field. Ask him if he’s played with this league before, what his experience has been in other sports, and what he’s hoping to get out of it. If this sounds like a lot of talking, well, yeah. You could probably accomplish some of this via emojis, but I’d encourage you to ask some substantive questions.

If you get the sense that he’s at all self-aware or willing to listen, maybe you can come up with a code word or hand signal when he’s starting to get too competitive during games (or during regular conversations!). If there’s no way that would work for you, try coming up with a few stock phrases that you can use with other players if you start to feel embarrassed. Maybe, “Yeah, he takes games really seriously,” or, “If I cared about anything as much as Dave cares about kickball…” 

You could also just ignore that these behaviors are happening and forge your own path on the team. Even if Dave takes things to extremes, hopefully, the other players won’t, and you can just choose to spend time with them until he cools down. It’s possible that being around other people in a team setting could have a moderating effect on his behavior. It’s also possible that there will be teammates even more competitive than he is. If the league sounds like fun to you, you should definitely go for it regardless of all these what-ifs. And maybe, if you’re lucky, having a weekly outlet for his competitiveness will tamp down Dave’s competitiveness around other aspects of life and friendship.

Be well,