Playing Against Tougher Opponents

I decided to write this blog, after seeing a lot of fans of various sports like Basketball and Football come up and say that players should “play against the best” so that their game will improve.

It has become sort of a cliche to hear in sports forums that, “they should not be afraid to play against tougher opponents, because it will help them improve.”

While I do agree with such a strategy, I feel that many people are misled about what results exactly to expect from such a strategy. Let me just put forth my humble opinions here:

‘Cabatu Will Never Become Fernandez’
When a lesser player constantly plays against a much better player, it won’t necessarily mean that he will eventually reach the level of that much better player.

Put it another way, no matter how many years a player with the skills of Sonny Cabatu play against a player like Ramon Fernandez, game in, or game out, he will never become the next Ramon Fernandez.

I am not completely discounting the fact that a player will become as good as the player he is playing against, but the ODDS are he will NOT. This is an important distinction: The MOST likely result, versus the LEAST likely result. And the least likely result, is that a player will be as good as the better player he is playing against.

This is a because there are many OTHER factors at work here: For example, “Natural ability” for one, like quickness, coordination, skill, etc., those characteristics CAN be improved, but it does not necessarily mean they can be improved TO REACH THE REQUIRED LEVELS of a better player.

‘Illustrating Skill Levels’
To illustrate this further, let’s just pretend for a moment that we can quantify the skills of two players. Let’s say that Player A has a skill level of 90%, and that Player B has 40%.

If Player B constantly plays against Player A, yes, we can expect him to improve. But by how much? I say a good improvement, but not necessarily enough to reach the level of Player A. Let’s say Player B has improved 20%, so that would mean his overall skills will now be 60%. That is a good improvement, but still below that of Player A, whose skill level is at 90%.

While we cannot necessarily quantify the skill levels in such a way as above, I still hold them as true. I’m basing this on actual results, like in the case of Sonny Cabatu, for example, who for years has played against Don Ramon Fernandez. Or Dong Polistico, who for years had played against the likes of Marlou Aquino.

‘Realistic Expectations’
So what purpose is there in playing against tougher opponents, if we can’t necessarily expect them to be as good as their tougher opponents?

For one, there will be some improvements, as I have tried to illustrate above. But such improvements just won’t be as dramatic as we usually hope for.

Another reason, is that it will help young or inexperienced players to reach their maximum levels earlier, since they will be forced to play at their 100% if not all then most of the time. Therefore they will be forced to OPTIMIZE their performance, and get used to doing so game in and game out.

A third reason, is that we can expect players to play better AT THEIR LEVEL. So, for example you take a college player in the UAAP or NCAA, and force them to play in the PBA. That means the UAAP or NCAA player will become better, with respect to the UAAP or NCAA, whose level is lower than that of the PBA.

‘Putting It All Together’
To put this all together, let’s take Greg Slaughter, for example. Greg playing constantly in the PBA, in international competitions, and against Douthit, I don’t expect Greg to eventually be as good as Douthit, or be even as good in international competitions.

What I do expect, is that when Greg plays in the lower levels, like in the UAAP, for example, then he will end up destroying that league, simply because that league is at a lower level than the levels he had played against.

And this works not only for Basketball, for other team sports as well, like Football. No matter how many times our Azkals play against the likes of Lionel Messi, or Christiano Ronaldo, Phil Younghusband will never be as good as those two. But put him on a lower level, like Asia, for example, and you can expect him to end up with a better performance.

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