top dog: competition + gender

One of the great things about alumni groups are the events offered all over the country for former students. Georgetown University has one of these amazing programs – GEMA: The Georgetown Entertainment & Media Alliance. This group organizes events and facilitates lectures open to all Georgetown graduates in major cities like New York and DC. Last Wednesday, February 20 I had the pleasure of attending a book signing and discussion of the book Top Dog, co-written by a Georgetown alum, Ashley Merryman.

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

This discussion was absolutely fascinating and I found myself translating everything to apply to a coach’s perspective. The book involves sections explaining the competitive nature of humans and the difference in the way boys and girls deal with this force. This element of the discussion on competition was eye-opening and basically suggests that coaching should take on different styles depending on the gender of the players. In a nutshell here is a general snapshot of how boys and girls approach competition:

  • Work better in groups
  • Generally overconfident in own abilities and skills
  • Join competition despite low probability of positive outcome
  • Excel more at finite games – sports


  • Work better in pairs
  • Competition becomes personal, based on comparison
  • Generally underconfident in own abilities and skills
  • Assess risks involved in competing and choose to enter competition accordingly
  • Excel more at infinite games – education, careers

So in other words, while boys may seem more competitive, their attitude isn’t driven necessarily by the desire to win but merely by the desire to participate in an attempt to prove their strengths. In the meantime, girls carefully choose competitions that suit their style and may not enter into a testing situation if they don’t see a chance of success. This behavior unfortunately becomes stereotyped and generalized and brands girls as less ambitious and less capable of competing. But that simply isn’t the case. Boys and girls just exhibit different priorities when approaching competitive environments