20 years ago I finished my career as a collegiate runner and have been thinking about the things I learned at that time. This is part two of my series, Lessons from the Back of the Pack.
Everyone in the world falls into one of four groups when it comes to athletics. There are two words that come into play. The first word is "gifted" and the other is "competitive". The presence or absence of the two words describes everyone on earth.
The first group is the rarest. They are the ones who are gifted and competitive. These people find athletic success as easy as breathing and they also love to win. Automatically we think of Michael Jordan, John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, and Peyton Manning. They have a competitive fire that burns brightly and they also have incredible God-given physical skills that most people can only dream about. They will work harder than anyone else because they just have to win. This trait drives them to become household names but also puts them in danger of becoming overly competitive jerks.
The second group has incredible physical skills but lack the competitive nature of the first group. They are the ones who played every sport in high school at the varsity level but drove their coaches crazy because they would never fully apply themselves to it. Because athletics came so easy, they often got bored with a sport and moved on to the next one.
The third group has it the best of anyone. They are neither gifted nor competitive. They may participate in athletic activities but mostly because their friends are on the team. Losing is not a big deal, they just want to have fun. People in this group may work out every day and be physically fit and active but they do it to be healthy and to have fun not to be the best of the best of the best.
The fourth group has it the worst. They are fiercely competitive but not athletically gifted. People in this group join the team, never miss a practice, and desperately try to win, but just lack any God-given athletic ability. Coaches love these athletes for their work ethic and desire but probably also think about how nice it would be if they had some actual ability to go along with it.
In case you where wondering, I am firmly in that fourth group. When I play something I don't simply want to win, I want to crush my opponents. I want to win in such a way that the next time we play you are already defeated. My calm demeanor covers up an intense competitive nature. I hate losing but when it comes to athletics I lose all the time. Even after all these years I still have not come to grips with it.
That competitive nature is what kept me going at the back of the pack. That is the answer to the question of why I worked so hard at something that I was not all that good at. I had to compete. I had to scratch the itch. Something inside drove me through the intervals and tempo runs and hills. It's is also the reason I almost lost several friendships and my marriage over a game of Monopoly, but that is a post for another day. (Heidi and I are still happily married but will never play Monopoly together again.) I guess that like the first group, the fourth group is also in danger of being overly competitive jerks, we just lack the skills to back it up.