For me, music has always been a conflict between the expression of emotion while being in the moment versus competitiveness and technique. I think both elements are important for a musician to keep growing; were it not for those two rather contrasting elements, you wouldn’t have progress and development in styles. Everybody would just be content to remain at the level they were at. I think everybody can relate to the emotional aspect of music, but people tend to forget about the competitive element as well.
In sports, competition is the name of the game. If you are not a true competitor, you most likely won’t get very far. It’s also somewhat easy to tell who the better athlete is. For instance, I think very few people would say that Tiger Woods isn’t all that great, since his record clearly states that he has won the most tournaments of any active golfer. How can you dispute that? Whereas in music, one could still make the argument that even an established musician wasn’t too good, since there is no scoreboard to keep track. It is all in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. You can judge more specifically in terms of technique, but the emotional and communicational aspects are harder to quantify.
I think this is where sports and music share some very deep qualities. Both are about teamwork. This quality is harder to measure, but can make a huge difference between somebody that knows how to work in a team and somebody who does not. If the truth be told, there are moments in both sports and music, where one should be selfish – like not making that last pass, when you might as well score yourself or a soloist playing that last chorus, even though the rhythm section is dying, because the energy was so great to the benefit of the audience.
The key thing is to think like a unit, not as an individual, and to always ask yourself: what is going to make this unit succeed in the long term? As a part of a string quartet I feel that this can be the ultimate unit. In a symphony orchestra with close to 100 members one can easily feel like a small dot in a system with very little impact on the end result. However in a string quartet with only 3 other people each individual holds a lot of power. Like a great sports team, the members of our quartet have to really focus on playing together, otherwise the whole thing falls apart. Even if you have all stars, but no team spirit, that team won’t do as well as one with a combination of ego, technique and real playmaker types.
I do think it is important to have a competitive edge, so people will grow and develop, and not get stuck at the same level. The trick is to combine this development with the sacrifice of the self and you will have a well-balanced sports team or music group.