Ego in Sport

The word ego. The modern mind jumps to arrogance.

Good old Wikipedia’s definitions:

Ego may refer to several related concepts…

  1. Ego (Freudian), one of the three constructs in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche
  2. Self-concept, a collection of beliefs about oneself that embodies the answer to “Who am I?”
  3. I (pronoun), the first-person singular nominative case personal pronoun in Modern English
  4. Egoism, an ethical theory that treats self-interest as the foundation of morality
  5. Egotism, the drive to maintain and enhance favourable views of oneself

Google / Psychoanalysis definition:

The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.


I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about 6 years. No doubt I started after some awkward breakup with yet another not quite the one guy. I was probably keen to “find myself” and my inner zen again after more relationship drama than is worth it 😉

Initially Bikram was my thing, always the same 26 postures and pushing to perfect them in 40° heat. Sweating and over heating to the point that you think you may pass out, but always trying to be hard as nails and crack on. I learnt  how to control my breathing in Bikram and how to convince myself that the overwhelming heat was only transient and that any panic was only in my mind. Breath through it, rationalise, be calm, be patient. In rowing it was all about convincing yourself to carry on despite your lungs screaming and your legs burning, a pain that is so bad it can only be your body’s way of warning you death is imminent if you try to carry on, but carry on you do.

In this morning’s yoga class, a more rejuvenating experience, my instructor talked about ego and attempting to separate it from our morning’s practice. The idea being that we often try to be perfectionists in sport and exercise and even in meditation!! Doh, I’ve been found out! It made me look again at my history in sport and even day to day exercise. I have to “get it right”, make the posture look right, feel it in the right place, be the most flexible, be the strongest, the fastest, and now I also have to be the most zen and have the clearest and most present mind. Luckily it’s not just me, right? Not the only one where ego takes over?

So why? Well, I guess sport is usually competitive. After 8 years in rowing, the transition into cycling (despite them being casual rides with friends) had me always trying to lead out and sprint to the top of climbs. Friends always seemed a bit miserable riding with me, I wonder why?! So, I’ve spent the past 3 years trying to chill, enjoy rides for the route, scenery and company. I’ve done this firstly not to alienate other cyclists and try to keep friends, and secondly to avoid burn out in yet another sport. Cycling is mine, its my zen, my travel, my me time, my passion, my opportunity to raise awareness for charity (MAP primarily), my thing I can be good at but not at the cost of not having a life. Historically rowing became too much, it hurt, it was political, stressful, time consuming, niche, but above all it was full of ego and I couldn’t see a way to do it non-competitively.

So did I manage to complete my yoga class without ego? Of course not! I pushed into my stretches, tried the slightly more challenging balance pose, focused on my breath to avoid feeling fatigue, etc. I did however bounce out of the studio this morning chatting away happily to a perfect stranger and somehow put aside my judgement of the man in Velosport to discuss cycling helmets for 30 minutes 😊 Happy Wednesday people!

What’s my point? I have no idea, just some ramblings to share. I guess ultimately we all experience sport in our own way and it is very hard it seems to take the ego out of it. Whether we are trying to do it in a perfectly “present” way or in a perfectly competitive way, it’s still the ego talking. Either way, bring on the endorphins!


One thought on “Ego in Sport

  1. Well now! That is a very honest piece of self-revelation, although perhaps not altogether surprising to those who know you even as much as I do. It must have been quite cathartic to have written it down in such a ‘soul bearing’ way and I imagine you have to feel better for that. When we are involved in committed sporting activities the competitive element is hard to deny and there is always that striving to do better. Perhaps the degree to which we do that does depend on individual ‘ego’ and a constant need to be better than we consider ourselves to be. It can then become slavish and detrimental. I still recognise what you say in myself and even at my ‘time of life’ constantly push to be better. When I’m cycling I struggle with seeing all the young guys ‘leave me for dead’ when they flash past and zoom off up the road! Totally unrealistic of course but hard to let go of what I used to be capable of. Still, better than sitting around vegetating I recon! You have to think on the other hand that with your – previous? 😉 – mindset you have achieved so much and done some totally incredible things which is only to be admired. You are amazing really. Be good to see the new relaxed you sometime? 😊


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