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3: Lessons Learned - Elite

One of the most profound lessons those experiences taught me — a lesson that has been reinforced through the years; through discussions with knowledgable sports figures; through my time as a manager, an employer and a coach — is how very difficult it can be to discern a noticeable distinction between people of excellence.

Within the category called Elite there is a very slim differential.

For the most part, we can easily recognize the Elite-of-the-Elite. In sport, business, the arts and education, the Elite-of-the-Elite seem to think, move, react and sense the world on a higher level. To use an alphabetical metaphor, the Elite-of-the-Elite are the letter A. These A’s are unique, rare and extraordinary. They tend to be naturals, constructed just that little bit differently, game changers with innate abilities that often astound and make us ask the question: “How did they do that?”

After the A’s, sticking with the metaphor and with thanks to my Kindergarten teacher, come the B’s: the Elite. While not A’s, these Elites are still remarkable; gifted and skilled beyond that of the norm, occasionally game changers — consistently game shapers. And if the A’s are extraordinary then the B’s are uncommon. Then we have the C’s, still separated from the common by their abilities, drive and determination. They are capable contributors, valuable to the cause and distinctive in their category.

We could stretch the metaphor, further refining our categories of elite, but let’s consider the point made, other than to say this: there are a rare few A’s participating in any given undertaking at any given time; the pool of B’s, while still small, is by size larger than the pool of A’s; and then progressively, the pool of C’s is a larger group still; and all stand out noticeably, remarkably ahead of the field.

Moving this discussion of elites from the generic to the specific of sport; I’ve often counselled my sons, the players I coach and the athletes I mentor, to attend a selection camp for elite athletes. I challenge them to watch the action with the eyes of a coach; evaluate the participants; categorize the players; work hard to find a distinction one-from-the-other, best-from-the-best. When they do that, then they start to understand just how hard it can be to find a significant distinction amongst the elite. What they will be able to do, what most people of experience can do, is distinguish the A’s from B’s, B’s from C’s and so on. But to readily determine the difference of an A from A, B from B, or C from C, well that’s another matter.

So, if you’re an A you’re likely doing very well. You’ll still have to compete for distinction within your category, but for the most part you are on top of the pile, king of the hill, ruler of all you survey. For the B’s and the C’s your job is harder, not only are you working to draw attention away from the A’s and B’s in front of you, but even more importantly, and more vital to your success, you are fighting to stand out within your category — a larger, more crowded and, therefore, much more competitive space.

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