In my Ultimate league, we almost always play man-to-man. Double teaming is not allowed, and you just don’t see zone defenses very often at this level of play. So, games are usually a series of one-on-one matchups the entire time.
In one game, I just happened to line up against folks that were significantly less experienced than I was and I scored seven times (that’s a lot). In another game, I was matched up against someone who was younger by twenty years, faster, taller, able to jump higher, etc. He forced me into half a dozen turnovers and I scored only once. Guess which of those two games was more satisfying to me? The second one. By far.
This kind of attitude shows up in my running too. For example, I’ve been doing speedwork on an indoor track at a local gym. When I started doing these workouts, I had the gym to myself, but a few weeks ago, the University of Saint Francis track team has been there when I was. They’re an impressive group of young people and clearly on a much higher level than I am. I’ve noticed that when we’re sharing the track, the intensity of my workout goes waaaaay up. While I’m not directly competing against any of them, there’s something about being next to amazing talent that inspires me to train harder. When I show up for a speed session, and see those college kids warming up, I know that I’m going to be working hard.
Within the last month, I was selected as an irun4ultra ambassador and as a member of the Three Rivers Running Company Ultra Racing Team. In both cases, the other athletes on these teams are far more accomplished than I am. One of my ultra teammates set a world record by running 73.3 miles on a treadmill in twelve hours! I am clearly surrounded by superior ability, experience and talent. I’ve ran trails with some of these folks before, and they make it look so effortless while I’m pushing hard just to keep them in sight.
I want to point out that I applied to these teams … I really wanted to be a part of these teams! I wasn’t motivated to apply because I thought I was great and they’d be lucky to have me … I wanted to a part of these teams because I knew that it would help me to become better. I enjoy a challenge most when the ability of those around me is higher than my own. They push me. They inspire me. They sharpen me.
Don’t get me wrong … I don’t want to always be the least capable athlete on the court or trail. I really enjoy introducing people to Ultimate and running. This is a topic for another day, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s important to intentionally invest in others and to help them improve.
When you break it down to principle, both of these attitudes are variations on the theme of accountability. I want to be pushed and I want to be the one pushing. My personal improvement is a function of the people I choose to be around. I will succeed because I am not alone.