Nobody consciously thinks “I want to be mediocre”, but through a number of compromises over a long period of time we can find ourselves there, stuck in the middle. In the race to the middle there is a lot of competition. Everyone dreams of reaching great levels of success, but few are willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears necessary to reach the top, and this is how the race to the middle begins.
It starts with a small compromise. Perhaps during the last few shots you do in a multi-shuttle drill you allow your quality to drop. In the weight room you might stop a couple of reps early. You think to yourself “it’s alright, those little inches here and there won’t matter”. However, as Al Pacino famously reminds us, life is a game of inches.
“You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small. I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in ever break of the game every minute, every second.”
What would happen if you decided to push through those last few reps in the gym, or you re-doubled your focus during multi-shuttle drills to make sure your technique is just perfect. The best players are perfectionists. They are looking for the tiniest little thing that they can improve upon. Fighting for that extra inch on their lunges, catching the shuttle just that little extra bit earlier to try pressure their opponent.
I believe talent is overrated. You may argue otherwise. Whether or not you are right does not matter much. What does matter is what attitude does my belief reflect compared to the alternative? Believing that talent is overrated means that you will be willing to use the ultimate equalizer, hard work, to help push you for success. If you are of the opinion that talent is a necessary pre-requisite to success then you are one step closer to joining the race to the middle.
The reality is that reaching the top can actually be easier than reaching the middle. The middle is crowded. Reaching the top is pretty straight-forward, work hard and don’t compromise. When you’re stuck in the middle you have to compete so much harder for a piece of the pie, but when you’re sitting on top things come much easier for you. Take Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei as examples. They’ve put in the work and continue to do so. Now when they come up against their opponents it’s easier for them.
Perhaps the most important benefit of reaching the top is that the rewards are disproportionate, financially and otherwise. Also, once you reach the top it is easier to stay there than it was to get there. The added confidence and experience of seeing what it took allows you to maintain your position.
Most of this is a matter of mindset. I’ve had many arguments with people over this concept. Very few people seem to be able to accept the idea that reaching for the top actually provides less competition. Perhaps that’s why they’re stuck in the middle. Don’t be afraid to reach for the top, and don’t be surprised if you trip and fall along the way. Even if you fail to make it to the very top of your field, whether that’s as a badminton player, or in your career, the experience gained by truly reaching for the top will be priceless.