When I was in 8th grade I was on a recreational soccer team playing in a winter league. The league was more competitive than my coach had expected it to be, and we got smashed almost every game.
It hurts to lose every game, especially at that age, but at the time I wasn’t too upset because hey, at least I had the consolation prize of stroking my ego and knowing that I was the best player on the team.
That’s when things got interesting. After the league concluded one of the club coaches we played against offered me a spot on his team. He had one roster slot remaining, and he wanted to use it on me.
I was flattered, but at the same time I was extremely hesitant as well. Sure, it’d be cool to play at a higher level, but I also knew that where my skills currently stood I was going to be arguably the worst player on the team. I spent a long time pondering the decision, but ultimately after the persuasion of several of my friends on the team I decided to join the big leagues.
At the onset of the season I did prove to be the worst player, but things slowly changed as the season progressed. I was embarrassed to be the worst one on the team so I came home from school every night and practiced on my own.
A couple weeks into the season I was no longer the worst player, and coach began giving me a couple minutes in each game. I steadily earned more playing time, and although I didn’t become a starter that season, I did eventually become coach’s first option off the bench.
(This is how I felt in 8th grade when I was the worst player on the team, and would always get picked last for scrimmages.)
Real World Application
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the point I’m trying to make is that it’s important to put yourself into situations that challenge you. It’s easy to be complacent when you’re the best person on your team, but when you’re surrounded by people that are better than you, you’re forced to sink or swim.
When you’re surrounded by inferior people they become your yes men. If you’re capable of carrying your team they’ll tell you whatever they think will please you, and increase the chances you’ll stick around.
There’s exceptionally good teams that’ll provide you constructive criticism, and encourage you to push your limits, but they’re the exception. Few exist, and if you believe your team fits in this category you’re probably making rationalizations.
When you’re surrounded by the best you become better. If you’re playing with great soccer players you’re going to be forced to play quickly. The guys at a high level will have the (soccer) intelligence to identify where you’re messing up, and they’ll let you hear all about the mistakes you’re making.
It’ll be tough on your ego to hear all their criticisms, but ultimately that’s how you’re going to avoid complacency, and make the quickest improvements.
This is perhaps the first time I felt a video of mine was better than the accompanying blog post.
(Picture is from January 2014, and no, I couldn’t tell you what I was wearing or why I felt the need to try it on.)
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