Playing to the level of the competition


Scrolls-BestWorkI am from Chicago. I am a professional basketball fan; therefore I root for the Chicago Bulls.  The Bulls possess one of the best records in the Eastern Conference. They are tenacious and fiery competitors. However they can frustrate their fans by their inconstancy against the extreme teams in the league. They have a habit of occasionally playing to the level of their competition. For example, one night they beat the Miami Heat, who were world champions. On another night, they lost at home, to the Charlotte Bobcats. Charlotte lost 17 games in a row and sported one of the worst records in professional basketball.

This concept of playing to the level of the competition is not unique to world of sports. You can see it in business, academics and many organizations. This practice is brilliant if the competition is among the elite in your field. These skirmishes can be exhilarating and bring out the best in players, students and employees.

Remember when you joined a company, entered a new job or a new department; the manager assigned you to work with the best performer. They wanted you to acquire good habits and a strong work ethic. This move placed you solidly on the road to success. However, in the same company, employees may be performing to the lowest common denominator.

Working to the level of the competition is rampant in many classrooms. Where there is a high standard and the competitive bar is high, students excel. However, where the opposite is found, students with the potential to score higher grades do not want to stand out from their peers.

What causes teams and individuals to give less than their best effort and gauge their performance to the perceive competency of the competition? The following may be answers to this question;

  1. Arrogance and over confidence
  2. Focusing on their next opponent

Arrogance and over confidence

We are told as far back as childhood of the dangers of over confidence. One of my favorite stories was the hare and the tortoise. The hare under estimated the tortoise due to over confidence in his own ability. He had accurately deduced his chances of winning the race and the skill level of the tortoise. His marginal effort was due to arrogance which meant he disrespected the tortoise. In his mind there was no way the tortoise could win. He was too slow. Apparently, he did not take into consideration, how arrogance would affect his decision-making. When you are arrogant you may falsely judge your opponent or misjudge your ability to produce at a high level.

Arrogant people do not believe their maximum effort is required. They are convinced they can beat the other team. They may start slow and spot the other team an enormous lead. They figure they can catch them, but the other team may catch fire and play high above their usual play. In every contest one team may be playing to the level of their competition. They are hoping the other team takes them for granted.  

Focusing on their next opponent

The subconscious mind is responsible for the way we think and react to numerous stimuli. If we believe the current competitor is inferior we may not get our best thinking or response to situations that occur in battle.

If we view the current competitor as a weaker adversary, we may unconsciously wish to conserve our energy for a tougher challenger. We may decide to let down our defenses in order to rest up for the next formidable opponent. The old football adage is true, “On any given Sunday any team in the National Football League can rise up and defeat any other team in the league.” This is valid in sports, business and other aspects of our lives.

The key question is how does a team or an individual conduct themselves to avoid this let down in performance?

  1. Establish great habits
  2. Scrimmage with the best
  3. Treat everyone as the best

Set high expectations

The establishment of great habits through high expectations is a key ingredient in breaking people free from the mold of delivering average performance. Researcher Geoffrey M. Hodgson said “Individuals have habits and groups have routines.” These habits may come from conducting intense practices. Many coaches say, “The way you practice is a reflection of the way you will play the game.” So, the quality of the practice should not vary based on the opponent. Prepare for the opponent, regardless of their record, marketplace or position on the leader board. Maintain a high level of readiness. Hopefully, players will not take off plays during the game because they feel victory is guaranteed.

Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit states that habit is critical in shaping our behavior. “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Scrimmage with the best

Identify the best in your area and use it or them as a standard. People use or publish best practices and ask their team members to develop similar and greater examples for implementation in their areas. Exercises simulating the actions and response of the major players will keep your edges sharpened. Bring in experts to challenge your department and keep our skills sharp. Instill incentives to encourage those who can deliver more to deliver more. This does not mean abandoning work / life balance by driving people to conduct an inappropriate amount of work at home.

When I played high school football, Coach Ralph Hegner always scheduled a few scrimmages with the top teams from the Catholic League. They were usually well disciplined, larger in stature with excellent technique. Our eyes would become as large as saucers when these humongous players walked on the field. We were over whelmed on the initial players until we gained our composure and began to play better. Coach Hegner felt if we played well against these teams we would do well in our conference. I always remembered this routine of scrimmaging with the best whenever my sales team needed to develop their skills.

Treat everyone as the best

A champion approaches each challenger with the same level of intensity to achieve the victory. They postulated that extreme variances in performance were not the mark of a true champion. A champion should be able to get excited about competing against any opponent, regardless of their won / loss record or position in the marketplace. To do otherwise, showed you were not ready for the mantle of excellence or worthy to win the trophy.

There are benefits and dangers in playing to the level of the competition. If it allows us to achieve excellence, if it stretches us and develops us, it should be encouraged and mandated.  

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

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