All Things Bubba

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Secret of Greatness

I'd always thought the difference between mere mortals and greatness was talent. That is, an inborn ability or aptitude. But according to researchers, it's not, as pointed out in this article:

What it takes to be great

Geoffrey Colvin, who later wrote a book about this (Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else), argues that scientific evidence points to practice, not talent, being the key to greatness. In sports and just about everything else. But not just any kind of practice.

So greatness isn't handed to anyone; it requires a lot of hard work. Yet that isn't enough, since many people work hard for decades without approaching greatness or even getting significantly better. What's missing?

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice." It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day - that's deliberate practice.

Innate physical gifts matter, but not as much as you think.

Certainly some important traits are partly inherited, such as physical size and particular measures of intelligence, but those influence what a person doesn't do more than what he does; a five-footer will never be an NFL lineman, and a seven-footer will never be an Olympic gymnast. Even those restrictions are less severe than you'd expect: Ericsson notes, "Some international chess masters have IQs in the 90s." The more research that's done, the more solid the deliberate-practice model becomes.

...Many great athletes are legendary for the brutal discipline of their practice routines. In basketball, Michael Jordan practiced intensely beyond the already punishing team practices. (Had Jordan possessed some mammoth natural gift specifically for basketball, it seems unlikely he'd have been cut from his high school team.)

In football, all-time-great receiver Jerry Rice - passed up by 15 teams because they considered him too slow - practiced so hard that other players would get sick trying to keep up.

Perhaps most interesting: the "ten-year rule." Scientists have found that it takes at least ten years of deliberate practice to become world-class at anything.

It's often been noted that for baseball players, age 27-28 is the "magic year" - the year where a player is at his peak or finally "figures it out." I'd always thought that was because men reach their physical peaks at about age 28. (I read once that male slaves sold for the most money at age 28, because that's when they were at their peak.)

But perhaps it's just the "ten year rule." Whether a young player signs a pro contract or goes to college, the late teens is likely to be when he gets really serious about practice. Which would put the ten year point at about age 27-28.


posted by BubbaFan, 5:16 PM


Interesting stuff.

Does this mean Bubba just didn't practice enough to stick with the Yankees?
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, January 01, 2009 11:54 PM  
I don't think I'd put it quite that way. By all accounts, Bubba has a great work ethic, and always has. But as the article points out, it's not just practice, it's deliberate practice - "activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition."

I remember reading about a guy who was a top draft pick, but was a disappointment in the minors. Until he used part of his signing bonus to buy himself a pitching machine, and suddenly became a top prospect again.

That suggests that at least for some players, there isn't enough practice time. Hitting isn't really something you can practice by yourself. And even if you can afford your own pitching machine...I would guess that once you reach a certain level, a pitching machine isn't enough. You need live pitching.
commented by Blogger BubbaFan, January 02, 2009 12:20 AM  
I used to know someone who is now making a bit of a splash as a rookie player.

He used to hire college pitchers to pitch extra BP for him.

He was also astoundingly selfish. Had no qualms about hogging the equipment and stuff.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, January 03, 2009 7:34 PM  
commented by Blogger BubbaFan, January 03, 2009 10:08 PM  

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