BYU versus Utah. Duke versus North Carolina. The Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears. These are just a few of the rivalries that make watching sports so fun.

But rivalries do more than raise the stakes of a battle, according to a recent article on competitiveness from the BBC. They can also boost the performance of the people involved.

“Organizational scientists have long suspected that rivalry can boost motivation, so that both parties perform at their best,” the BBC reported.

The story highlighted a study on members of a running club, many of whom had rivals within the group. Researchers found that runners felt more motivated and, in many cases, actually performed better during outings in which a rivalry was in play.

“When a rival was present, (runners had) a 25-second advantage over a 5 (kilometer) race, compared to races in which a rival was not present,” the BBC reported.

However, other studies have shown that tension with a rival isn’t always a good thing. Some people freeze up when they’re encouraged to crush a specific opponent; these performers likely respond better to a general request to “do your best,” the article noted.

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The BBC piece, which focused on workplace settings rather than athletic competitions but included several examples from the world of sports, said that rivalries are healthiest when they’re seen as a challenge, not a threat.

“When we see a situation as a ‘challenge,’ ... we feel more confident in our preparation and abilities to cope,” the BBC reported. “The resulting stress response is energizing rather than distracting.”

Managers, coaches and others engaged in a competition can apply this wisdom by presenting a rivalry as a source of added motivation, rather than as a potential source of embarrassment, said Christopher To, an assistant professor of human resource management at Rutgers University, to the BBC.

“It’s a question of whether the competition psychs you up or psychs you out,” he said.