Top Dog by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explores the science behind competition, winning, and losing. I have had the pleasure of meeting Ashley at the last two American Psychological Association conventions, and can vouch for her eagerness and thoroughness in researching and sourcing for this book.
Top Dog addresses aspects of competition that are both puzzling and counterintuitive. In providing insight, they explain research that is both foundational and current.
For example, have you ever noticed that sometimes the presence of spectators provides you with a rush of energy that facilitates performance, and sometimes they feel you with dread and ruin performance? These differences can be explained by classic research in sport psychology. First, the understanding that when a skill is mastered we generally enjoy putting it on display for others. When in the learning stage, we generally find spectators make us nervous and are a distraction. Still, this does not explain everything as there are experts that do not perform well in front of audiences and novices who do.
The second understanding is that each person has their own zone in which they perform their best. The presence of spectators is energizing (which in itself could be perceived as excitement, anxiety, or both by a given person), and therefore helpful for people who prefer a higher level of energy when performing, and harmful to those that prefer a more relaxed state.
Full of useful information such as the above, Top Dog is definitely worth a read for any performer, coach, or leader interested in competing better.