Opponents Make Us Better

posted on: March 24, 2020
author: Brian Lomax

Tennis player servingWhenever we compete, we are going up against one or more opponents.  But perhaps “against” isn’t the right word to use to describe what is happening.

The verb to compete actually comes from the Latin competere which means “to strive for with.”  Interesting.  With, not against.  However, that’s not how we’ve been taught to think of competition.  We’ve always been told it’s adversarial; that the point is to beat the opponent.

Is that wrong?  Well, yes and no.  Let’s see if we can come up with a better way to think about this.

We need opponents

Let’s say you’re a tennis player and you go to your favorite court to play.  You get on the court, and you hit your first ball over the net.  But there’s no one on the other side, so the ball doesn’t come back.  That’s boring.

It turns out you actually need someone on the other side to make this fun.  You need an opponent – someone to challenge you.  Without that other person, there is no tennis match.  There is no possibility of creating a great performance or great match.  And we all love playing great matches.

If we need an opponent to make the sport fun and to produce a good performance, perhaps the opponent isn’t really the enemy.  But again, thinking of the opponent as the enemy is probably what you’ve been taught since you first started to compete.

Anytime that we think about the opponent as our enemy, it’s the ego talking.  And to be clear, the ego is the enemy.  It distracts you from focusing on what you need to do, and instead, makes you worry about the consequences of winning and losing.

For instance, you may be thinking about what other people will think of you.  Or about your ranking, your rating, or your UTR.  These thoughts have nothing to do with playing well in the moment.  They don’t help you focus on the task at hand.

Of course you want to beat the opponent, but to do that, you have to focus on the task at hand.

Don’t let your ego get in the way by thinking of the opponent as an enemy.


Opponents are like challenges

A better way to think of your opponent is as a challenge.  Can you become great at your sport if you are never challenged?  No.

If you’re only playing people you can beat, chances are that your game isn’t progressing much.  At some point, that might start to bother you.  If you want to get better, you have to challenge yourself.  And opponents are the challenges that we need.  They test our skills.  They push our boundaries.  Bottom line – they make us better.

One of the fundamental mindsets of mental toughness and resilience is “to embrace the challenge.”  With that in mind, we must embrace playing opponents, especially those that give us difficulty.

They’re helping to make us better.  And you want to better, don’t you?  You want to be the best you can be, right?  If you answered yes to these questions, then you need to welcome the challenge of that difficult opponent.  Embrace it.


Theodore RooseveltRespect all opponents

It takes a lot of courage to be an athlete and competitor, especially in the internet age.  It’s like Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech.  You’re the one taking action, coming up short from time-to-time, but always trying to be better.  For that, you deserve a lot of credit.  And so do your opponents.

Whether they are better than you, the same as you, or worse than you, they deserve your respect because they are courageous – just like you.  Let me repeat that – they are just like you.

Not only do I want you to embrace the challenge of opponents, I want you to respect them as well.  Always give your best effort no matter the ability level of the opponent.  Always speak of him or her in a positive manner.  Play with honor, fairness, and integrity.  Because they’re just like you.

If you do this, you’ll never take an opponent lightly or give them too much credit.  You’re much more likely to play your best.


Sprinters at the start of a race


Can you change your perspective on opponents so that you realize you actually need them?  And they actually need you?

You are partners in the quest to be the best that each of you can be.  There’s no need to be adversarial – that’s a distraction. Help each other.  Play with honor and respect.  Embrace the challenge.  Bring this positive viewpoint to the battle, and it will help you to perform your best more often.

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About the Author

Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.

Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/

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