How Does Pride Affect Sports Performance?

How Does Pride Affect Sports Performance?

In the early 2000s, American cyclist Lance Armstrong was a rising star in the sport. He achieved unprecedented success by winning the Tour de France seven times in a row. In addition to his cycling achievements, Armstrong also survived cancer and founded a thriving charity called Livestrong to support cancer research. He was considered a hero by many.

The article continues after the ad

However, throughout his career, there have been allegations of performance-enhancing drug use, even from teammates and friends. In 2012, he was officially suspended for doping. He was stripped of all his titles and banned from the sport for life.(one)

It is a tragic legacy: a man who inspired a generation of cyclists, whose advocacy for cancer research had a lasting impact, but whose pride and excessive desire for victory led to his downfall.

What is pride?

There is a kind of pride which is not a defect. It is the feeling of pleasure in a job well done, or the satisfaction one gets from one’s good choices. This is not examined here.

We examine the flaw of pride; an inflated sense of self or excessive desire for perfection, (2) What Aquinas called the root of all other evils. (3) There are many reasons to avoid pride. It harms our communities. It suppresses love for more valuable things and makes us less teachable.

But pride is also evident in sports, where there is often a culture of bragging and self-aggrandizement, sometimes called “marketing” and other times disguised as self-belief. Admittedly, that’s probably one of the things we enjoy about sports: the bragging and self-congratulatory arrogance of it all. It’s fun. (4)

The article continues after the ad

Given that pride is prevalent in sports and that this is an Olympic year with many exciting sporting events ahead of us, we might wonder about the possible effects of pride on sports performance.

Here are three ways pride impacts sports:

(1) Pride can lead an athlete to overestimate his abilities.

Philosopher Craig Boyd describes one epistemic (knowledge) error made by pride: The proud person perceives himself as greater than he is. He may think he is independent and fail to understand that “one’s life is fragile and dependent on many factors beyond one’s control.” (5)

This misinformation can negatively impact performance. Think of the runner who starts a race too fast, assuming he can run faster than he actually is, and then falls apart before the finish line. Think of the basketball player who takes a risky shot that is beyond his abilities or who believes he can carry the game without the support of his team.

In this way, pride can negatively impact performance.

(2) Pride can lead an athlete to view himself as more valuable than others.

The second mistake pride makes, Boyd says, is error of judgment. (6) The proud person sees himself as superior to those who aspire to less. He values ​​himself and his interests more than others. (7)

The article continues after the ad

The impact of this flaw on performance can be mixed. Putting oneself first before others seems like a great way to limit one’s focus to oneself; to build a life around maximizing one’s success. But in a team environment, this flaw can detract from constructive interactions and making good choices about who gets the ball and who gets the greater share of the performance glory.

(3) Pride can render the athlete helpless.

The prideful athlete sees himself as superior—better, faster, stronger, more important. But even the most ascendant athlete won’t stay there for long. There’s always another athlete ready to take his place.

This is why pride can make an athlete desperate to win. The great secret of pride is that it is always under threat. (8)

Final thoughts

Pride likely has a mixed effect on athletic performance. It can serve as a powerful motivator for performance in order to maintain a sense of superiority and self-importance. It can lead an athlete to prioritize training and put themselves first. However, pride can also cause an athlete to overestimate their abilities and disrupt constructive team dynamics.

The article continues after the ad

There are strong reasons to avoid the flaw of pride in general—to see and love the good in those around us, to be teachable, and to live within limits. But even for the sake of athletic performance, it’s probably best to avoid it.


(one) Mr. Pearson. October 10, 2012. Agency Says Evidence Armstrong Doped ‘Pretty Much’ CNN Sports.Web…; accessed July 9, 2024.

(2) Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae II.2.162.1

(3) Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae II.2.162.7-8

(4) S. Small. 2024. The Race Investigated. New York: Oxford University Press, 153-155.

(5) C. A. Boyd. 2014. In Pride and Humility, Virtues and Vices, eds. K. Timpe and C. A. Boyd. Oxford University Press, p. 250.

(6) C. A. Boyd. 2014. pp. 248-250.

(7) S. Small. 2024. The Race Investigatedpp. 156-8.

(8) S. Small. 2024. The Race Investigatedp. 157.

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. New

Small, S. 2024. The Race Investigated.New York: Oxford University Press

Boyd, C. A. 2014. In Pride and Humility, Virtues and Vices, eds. by K. Timpe and C. A. Boyd, Oxford University Press.

Pearson, M. October 10, 2012. Agency Says Evidence of Armstrong Doping Is ‘Overwhelming.’ CNN Sports.Web…; accessed July 9, 2024.