Many players, and unfortunately some coaches, look at other players and judge their ability solely based on athleticism—how quickly the players moves, how high they jump, how much they can lift, and how smoothly they execute a sports skill.
Although athleticism is often an essential component of a superior player, the history of amateur and professional sports is full of famous, successful competitors whose physical attributes were far from perfect. Examples include:
- Larry Bird: Although he was a great NBA basketball forward who possessed an outstanding outside shot, incredible court sense, and an indomitable will to win, he lacked quickness and jumping ability.
- Andre Agassi: One of the best ball strikers of all time, his tennis success was based more on superb hand/eye coordination, exceptional anticipation, and aggressive game tactics than any outstanding physical characteristics.
- David Ortiz: Despite being heavy and slow running the base paths, his outstanding ability to hit a baseball has enabled him to enjoy great success and a long career in Major League Baseball.
- Mike Eruzione: Considered too small and too slow by professional scouts, he captained the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team, scoring the game winning goal over the heavily favored Soviet Russia team.
Non-Athletic Factors Often Define an Athlete's AbilityTalent is not limited simply to a player’s physical characteristics; but also can encompass characteristics more closely associated with the mind and “heart.” These less tangible attributes are not as easily seen and measured as the physical ones, but they are important. Performing under pressure, demonstrating character and leadership in difficult moments, persistence, and the will to prepare are all special qualities that can distinguish one athlete from another.
Still another non-athletic talent is an athlete’s sports “IQ.” An example of this type of intelligence is the ability to understand the time and space relationship between moving objects (ball, players) and correspondingly anticipate opportunities to react before others do. Players with this ability are the ones who always seem to be “around the ball.” In basketball, they’re the undersized player that “gets yet another rebound.” In football, they’re the defenders who are “involved in every tackle.”
You should also understand that these types of talents are ones that many other players do not inherently possess. Don’t underestimate their importance. They can provide you with a competitive advantage against physically superior athletes.
One Success StorySeveral years ago, I coached a middle school basketball team that included a seemingly non-athletic eighth grade boy who moved awkwardly, without much speed or quickness. He lacked ball skills and the ability to consistently convert any shot other than a layup. In evaluating John, my first impression was that I would need to find limited roles for him to play. Although having only average height and jumping ability, the forward position was the one best suited to his physical build and abilities.
In our first practices and games, I noticed that John was always around the ball, running the floor, constantly positioning himself to receive passes and rebound the ball. He had an uncanny ability to anticipate ball and player movements, and position himself to gain an advantage.
As John’s shot improved through the course of the season, and he learned more individual skills and team concepts, he became one of our team’s most valuable players, helping lead us to a victory in our league’s championship game.
So, even when you don’t possess the ideal physical characteristics for your sport, remember that there are still many paths to success.
Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved