All Things Bubba

Because how can you not love a baseball player named "Bubba"?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Price of Greatness

There was an article in the Chicago Tribune today, about it takes to excel at sports (or anything else). It mentioned Talented Is Overrated, which argues that it's practice, not natural gifts, that lead to greatness. But why are some people driven to practice for hours a day for years, while others are couch potatoes?

David Shenk, author of "The Genius In All of Us," said this aspect of greatness remains mysterious. The closest thing to a formula, he said, comes when parents give love to a child if she puts maximum effort into, say, dance practice, and withhold it when she does not.

He calls that "The Britney Spears Syndrome," and needless to say, he does not recommend it.

"That recipe doesn't work 100 percent of the time," Shenk said, "but it's destructive 100 percent of the time."

Aside from that, he said, intense drive appears to stem from many sources: from vengeance (Michael Jordan's famous resentment over once failing to make his high school varsity team) to spirituality (the yearning of Eric Liddell, the Scottish sprinter immortalized in "Chariots of Fire," to run for the glory of God).

Knowing that, however, doesn't do the rest of us much good. If there's something else beneath such profound motivation, something the average person can emulate, it remains elusive.

Maybe that's just as well. Crazed, single-minded purpose can be hard to endure (I was almost always disappointed and miserable during my swimming mania), and it can produce all sorts of damaging consequences (Exhibit A will be teeing off at Augusta National in a couple of weeks).

Even Shenk said he wouldn't wish the trait on his own children.

"Those kinds of extremes don't comport with the kind of kids I'm hoping to raise," he said. "I'm hoping to raise human beings who strive for greatness and do their best within some kind of reasonable spectrum. … They want to be complete human beings rather than shine as the greatest hitter or golfer or piano player that ever lived."

That almost makes greatness sound like a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder or something.


posted by BubbaFan, 11:05 PM


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