“Dan, why do other kids who are smaller than me throw harder than me?”
Well, some of us are just gifted.
What Does “Gifted” Mean, Anyway?
An innate, undeserved, biological predisposition to excel in something. Whether it’s math, drawing, singing skills, or something physical like attractiveness or athletic ability. All of these can be deemed “gifts.”
Having talent is often synonymous with being gifted. We think of talented people as those who rose to the top because they were simply meant to (presumably because of their logically-circular gift of talent).
There’s a book called “Talent is Overrated.” This book was reviewed on DanBlewett.com by Ben Brewster, a talented college pitcher that I know. Wait. He’s now good, but he once wasn’t, much like myself. Is he talented? I can’t remember. Anyway, this book says that hard work overcomes talent, and that anyone who rises to the top of their fields do so because of immense practice and dedication. I believe in that quite a lot.
However, we can’t underestimate genetic predisposition, especially as they pertain to sports. Many of us are good at a given sport because we were “chosen” for it. We see these people all the time, and these people end up choosing a sport because they are well-suited for it. Scrawny, short (white?) kids don’t choose basketball. Big, muscular fellas don’t become golfers, distance runners or tennis players. It becomes even more problematic when we start judging the bodies and training methods of athletes based on their sports.It ends up creating the headache-inducing question: Is Johnny the Olympic Marathoner skinny because he runs, or a runner because he is skinny? Often, it’s the latter. Thus, when people want to “get skinny” they choose running. (my training philosophy doesn’t agree with distance running, but that’s beyond the point)
Won “The World’s Strongest Man” 5 times. Admittedly eats 10 candy bars a day “for energy”. Is also the only strongman with visible abs. Gifted? Selected? Uh…yeah.
Is Big Suzy strong because she’s an Olympic weightlifter? Or is she an olympic weighlifter because she was naturally big and strong? Again, probably the latter. Sure, her dedicated training enhanced her natural “gift” or talent of being strong, but she was already chosen for her sport. Tall and skinny lefthanded kids – what do they become? Shortstops? Nope. Catchers? Sorry – lefties can’t catch. Rather, they become outfielders or pitchers. Thick lefthanded kids become first baseman. Blame your parents that you won’t be the next Dustin Pedroia; they shouldn’t have let you throw with that devilish left arm.
Part of this “chosen for a sport” phenomenon is due to the fact that sports are intended to be fun. If Sloth-y Sally is terribly slow, soccer is going to suck for her. She will quit and pick a sport at which she can be successful, and thus, have fun. Yes, I know – this makes lots and lots of sense.
It’s Distance Running For You, Mike MacDougal. Oh wait? You Throw 97?
So, here we get back to being “gifted.” What gifted or talented really means is that your baseline physiology allows for higher performance. We all know this – line up 10 youth pitchers, all with no formal training whatsoever, and put them on the radar gun. You’ll get 10 different velocities, though all might be relatively close. The slowest thrower might throw 50mph, and the highest 60mph. Put this same group of kids through training, and now the 50mph thrower throws 54, but the 60mph throws 67. The starting point is never the same, and the body’s response to training is never the same. Same training, different end result. The difference? Gifts, talents, genetics, whatever.
But….Everyone Is Lazy. So The Plot Thickens….
Here’s where it gets interesting. If everyone had the exact same training, the exact same work ethic and drive, mental focus and dedication, the better players would separate themselves from the group based on their genetic gifts, their internal predispositions. The kids with more muscle size, more elasticity, strength and reactiveness would get more out of training than those without those traits. However, access to training, nutrition, work ethic, commitment, mental focus, etc. etc. etc. all play much bigger a role in end result than do genetics. This is the point made in the “Talent is Overrated” book, and my overall point – genetic gifts, while 100% real, are simply not the biggest factor in life, sports, or any matter in which an individual can control his destiny.
Sure, ‘control his destiny” is relative – the man in the wheelchair will never get to jog an Olympic victory lap. However, he can selectively choose endeavors at which he could succeed given his limitations whatever. This is the same thing that athlete’s physical makeup decides for him – he chooses sports that provide him the best chance for success. If you’re in a wheelchair, you cannot choose Major League Baseball. Similarly, if your throwing arm moves relatively slow, no matter the training you impose upon it, you cannot choose Major League Baseball. If you have just enough gifts or talent, however, you can choose to close the gap by out-training those with more talent and better gifts than you.
Athletic Potential Simplified. Or Complicated. Who Knows.
Here’s where it sort of comes down to math, if we can agree to quantify the unquantifiable.
Say Steve Dalkowski represents the theoretical maximum for a pitcher’s inherent ability – he possesses 100% talent. If you don’t know who this is, pre-order my Dad’s book. Dalkowski supposedly threw as hard as 110 miles per hour (did I get that right, Dad?), and is regarded by those who saw him to be the hardest throwing pitcher, by a wide margin, in history. He had supposedly the best genetics of all time, and if not for injury would have had the ideal makeup of a MLB pitcher. He had “100%” talent.
Now say you’re like me – a kid who didn’t throw exceptionally hard, but who worked exceptionally hard. Let’s say my genetic makeup was 60% – better than average because I’ve yielded better than average results, but not nearly enough to express any type of Pro Baseball quality results without significant training.
Further, take the kid who, no matter how hard he works, will never break 75 miles per hour. The worlds absolute best training regimen will not yield him nearly the results he wants, simply because his body doesn’t have more performance in it than it’s already expressing. Let’s assign him 30%.
The other half of this is work ethic. An amazing work ethic, leaving no stone unturned and no drop of sweat unperspired, garners a rating of 100%. We average these two numbers together – the talent + the work ethic, and we get a number that represents how high one can get relative to those in the sporting world.
Now, let’s further say that it takes an average of 80% to make it into professional baseball; this is an arbitrary number, but we’re putting it in the middle of the upper half of the baseball world.
So, 60%-ers like me could make it into pro baseball with an 100% work ethic. If you had more talent, you wouldn’t have to work quite as hard to reach the same level. Someone with 10% more talent, 70%, would only need a 90% work ethic to reach the same end-goal of cracking the pro ranks. Our 30% player could work 100% in the gym and still fall short – maybe be an average high school player at best. He simply didn’t have the physical ability.
Unfortunately for those in the sports world who are willing to put in a lot of time, sweat and suffering, there are limited spots at the top, and each occupied position keeps one lesser player out. However, most people are lazy, unfocused sissies who really don’t know what it takes to succeed, and certainly aren’t willing to suffer for it. What this means is that there is ample time for those with lesser work ethics to close the gap.
Yet, there are flaws in my system. In reality, one can make it into pro baseball with vastly more talent than work ethic. If you throw 95 as an 18 year old and do nothing but eat cheetos and drink your parents’ wine coolers, you’ll get drafted and play professionally. This might represent a 95% talent level and a 0% work ethic. But for that same kid to make it to the Majors, he’ll have to add in that extra half of training and dedication. I could keep skewing the numbers to make it more accurate, but you get the point of the equation.
The bigger point is that work ethic closes the gap significantly for those who aren’t in the stratosphere of giftedness. I’d say there are 1%-ers, 5%-ers and 10%-ers (top 1%, that is) that will succeed in the game because of their sheer will. The have enough talent and try vastly harder than everyone else to succeed, and refuse to give up in the face of adversity. Being around lots of young athletes, it takes about 1-2 months to categorize people.
I’ve trained one single person who I would say is in the 1%. I’d say that he is the only 1%-er because he immediately pops into my head when I think of the hardest-working, most mentally dedicated person I’ve known. When I say 1%, I really mean the .000000001%. I currently train five who I would say are in the top-5%. They impress me every day and are all possible 1%-ers, should the fire inside them continue to grow. It’s not just about how hard they lift the weights I ask them to, it’s about the look in their eye when they’re tired, about the questions they ask me, about the overall direction of their will. It’s somewhat intangible, but I know it when I see it. It’s an internal drive that never turns off, that many people simply don’t understand. People who don’t have it will defend that they have it, saying “I’ve done everything I could think of. What else should I do?” The 1% lays awake in bed thinking, “What should I do that I haven’t yet thought of?” The 1% then gets out of bed and searches for the solution while the rest of the world sleeps.
In one of the training manuals I’ve recently read, The Westside Book of Methods, Louie Simmons, the author includes a parable to illustrate his point of why a person should train more often, as much as 2 workouts per day. This is paraphrased, because I have since lent out the book to a friend.
A young martial arts student in the Far East lagged behind his mates. He was weaker and less skilled than the rest. He asked his master: “How will I possibly reach the skills of the other students when we all train the same amount?”The master thought. “When they rest, you must train. When they sleep, you must train.”And so he did. While the others took their midday nap, he trained. When they rested at the end of a long day, he trained. It took many years, but he grew up to not only catch his classmates, but became Grand Master of the Academy.