Middlesbrough defender David Wheater is determined to establish himself as a regular first-team player this season.
However, the 21-year-old believes the competition for defensive places at the club has helped raise his game and those of his team-mates.
"All the defenders are playing well and when they've had chances they've stayed in the team," he told BBC Tees.
"Now I've had a few games I want to keep improving and hopefully I can stay there and perform better than I have."
Wheater's ascent into the first-team picture under Gareth Southgate was one of the stories of the last Premier League season, making 40 appearances and scoring four goals in all competitions.
The towering centre-back then ended the campaign with a call-up to manager Fabio Capello's England squad, and was also a key figure in Stuart Pearce's under-21 side.
However the 2008-09 campaign has not run quite as smoothly, he was dropped ahead of the trip to Aston Villa earlier in the season and then suspension meant he was unavailable for selection.
And the Redcar-born stopper admitted it was difficult finding himself on the sidelines.
"It was horrible really, it's the worst thing coming into training and you're not happy, you just want to be playing," he said.
"The manager talks to you saying 'you have to keep trying hard' but you are doing that and you're not getting anywhere.
"He said the lads were doing well, and they were, but I just wasn't happy in myself."