I was the middle of three sons. We were all one year apart. We were a constant pain in the butt for my parents. Because we were only a year apart in age, we were always competing. Competing with each other (meaning we fought a lot), and competing together against the neighborhood kids.
We kids would get together almost everyday after school to play the “sport du jour”. This means we would play what sport was in season at the time. Summertime we would play baseball everyday, autumn, we would play football everyday, and winter meant we played hockey every day.
There was one problem, the neighborhood kids we played against were two years older than me! (Let’s see, some quick math; that meant they were one year older than my older brother Albert, and three years older than my younger brother Steve.)
Needless to say, we got our asses kicked every day.
In reality, what happened, we became very good at playing kids our own age!
My brother Steve and I were the smallest starting players on our Pop Warner football team. We were tenacious I tell you. Well, we were tough and used to getting beat upon by bigger players.
If there is a moral to this story it is this; if you want to be really good at something, play against folks who are better than you. You may get your head kicked in a lot, but you will improve as a player.
This is true whether you are talking about ping-pong, bowling, golf, tennis, chess, poker, bridge, running, etc. etc.
When you get used to competing with people better than you, you raise your game.
Your other friends will notice.