Competition used to be a regular part of school: posting the perfect scores on weekly spelling tests, who can get the most math problems done correctly in a given amount of time etc. Then someone decided that was bad, because if there are winners, there are losers. Of course, I'm sure that mainstreaming and heterogeneous grouping were heavily involved in that decision.
BTW, as the parent of several full-time elite athletes, I have observed that when kids get to a certain level they provide their own motivation; the coach's role is to help them increase their fitness, skills and tactics. I have frequently seen this in kids under 12; once instructed by the coach, the kids do significant conditioning and skills work outside of practices. However, athletes are given status and recognition not offered to outstanding students. Unfortunately.
I'm intrigued by this observation.
It relates to something I've been kicking around in my mind: how did I come to be a highly motivated student?
I often wonder whether I would have survived the constructivist schools we have now, and I tend to think the answer is 'no.'
I think the answer is 'no' because a constructivist project-based school wouldn't have given me the steady supply of positive reinforcement my traditional school did. I was a straight-A student & all assignments were what today we called "short timeline." I was positively reinforced so often that studying and all forms of school work became what Eric Hollander calls a "positive compulsion."
update 3:28 pm
[T]hey don't NECESSARILY have the motivation from the beginning; some do, some don't. If they don't have/acquire it, they don't last long at the elite level. If they don't work on their own, they drop in relation to the kids who do and they get cut from the team. That bothers some people, but not everyone has the same interests. There's a finite amount of time and kids have different priorities. Someone who drops from an elite team to a less-competitive one, so he can spend more time on band/orchestra (or anything else) is making a perfectly rational decision to spend most of his extracurricular time on the activity he likes most. I don't see that as a problem, although some do.
BTW, I have never seen a situation where parents were pushing the kid into a sport he didn't want to do, or to do on at a full-commitment level, that lasted more than short term. You can't make kids get up at 4:00 am two or three days a week for swim practice for very long. Or make a young soccer player work on skills for at least half an hour a day, even if there is practice.
When I taught for Johns Hopkins CTY, we were told that this kind of intrinsic motivation is the hallmark of gifted children. Parents don't force gifted children to practice for hours; the children want to do it.