Playing With People Better Than You
Cycling’s greatest rivalry first materialized when Belgian Wout Van Aert and Dutch Mathieu Van Der Pol began competing against each other at nine years old.
Two decades later, they have both gone on to do things no other cyclist has ever done, including owning multiple world titles in different racing categories. Born just four months apart, they have faced each other over 200 times.
Both credit the intense competition against each other as the primary reason for their success. They relentlessly push each other to the limit and help the other to near-flawless performances. The competition between them makes each stronger. Without the insight and learnings gained through their head-to-head battles, both admit they wouldn’t be the cyclists they are today.
Those at any skill level make the most strides when they compete against others who are better than they are. Any athlete, performer, or leader who competes against those who are more accomplished and skillful will accelerate their own skills and learnings in a way nothing else can match.
The best performers know this and so seek out opportunities to compete, compare, and engage with those who are flat-out better than they are. By holding themselves to a higher standard of performance, performers of any stripe begin to see things differently. They learn to prepare, practice, and focus in superior ways. The details they attend to begin to match those of people who have found the next rung of the ladder. Just by playing with those more skilled, they get better faster than they ever thought possible.
When not challenged by better performers, people come to rely on what they already know to succeed. They judge themselves less critically and often fail to learn the lessons essential for making big gains.
The key is to find performers who are better, but not so much so as to undermine confidence or to be overwhelmed by such advanced skills. While playing with those who are better can be uber-challenging and nerve-racking, those with a desire to learn and achieve become students of the moves and processes top performers employ to excel.
Occasionally allowing others with less skill to hitch a ride on your shoulder is the payback of asking others above you to do the same. Dedicate a portion of your practice and play for those more skillful than you. Compete the best you can and soak it all in. You may find your skills get much better with lightning speed.