In what is clearly a strange set of circumstances, the ESPN family of networks is currently airing two live football games. Though nothing about that is strange, the fact that one channel has my college alma mater’s rival, West Point, and another is broadcasting my high school alma mater’s cross-town rival, Foothill High School (Pleasanton, CA), is definitely unique. As I flip between channels, I am left wondering about the relationship amongst rivals.

According to Wikipedia, a “rival” is a competing person, company,¬†or team. Personally speaking, the term “rival” should not be confused with the term “adversary,” which brings with it a connotation of hostility. The point at which a rival becomes an adversary is when the relationship is no longer healthy. Throughout my athletic career, which I spent playing team sports, the focus of much of our teams’ energy was directed towards beating our rival. All of the while, our motivation was the bragging rights that accompanied a big win. Though that was the reason we put in the extra blood, sweat, and tears, the benefit had little to do with what the scoreboard showed at the end of any of our games. While pushing ourselves in hopes of edging our rivals, we become a stronger, faster, more focused, and more cohesive unit. In essence, our rivals made us better.

Though we are accustomed to associating rivals with athletics, the truth is they are prevalent wherever we turn. There are rivals among countries, military services, private companies, neighbors, friends, siblings, and coworkers. As long as they do not become adversarial, they result in stronger economies, a more capable Department of Defense, more value delivered to the customer, a tighter/cleaner/safer community, and improved and more capable individuals/teams/families.

As a matter of practice, I support both Foothill and West Point and consider myself lucky to have friends from both institutions. Because of my rivals, whether they be academic, athletic, or professional, I am better in every facet of my life than I would be if it weren’t for them.

  • How do you describe the difference between rivals and adversaries?
  • Who are your rivals?
  • Does¬†thinking about them push you to make yourself better?