By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
I’m certain that every little boy envisions himself becoming the next Russell Wilson or Tom Brady. I can recall as a young man playing touch football on an empty lot in Brooklyn. It was a very small leap from playing this local game to imagining there you are at the Super Bowl, throwing the winning pass.
With our daughter, the women’s sports at that point in high school were soccer and lacrosse. Again, I can imagine our daughter thinking as she was dribbling the ball down the soccer pitch that she was Pele scoring the winning goal for Manchester United (perhaps the most famous soccer team there is).
Actually Pele played for Brazil. One could also argue that Barcelona is more famous now than Manchester United.
When you look at world-class athletes, a couple of key attributes tend to show up. The first is God given talent. You cannot “learn” this. You either have it or you don’t. When you watch Usain Bolt run the 100-meter dash, you can plainly see that he was born with the innate talent to become the world’s best short distance runner. However, innate talent is not sufficient to become world class.
Second you need great coaching. Without a coach to guide one through proper training, meals, run preparation and proper cool down periods, you probably will become just another “great” athlete – excelling in your high school and perhaps college sports.
Third is mental toughness. If you can’t “persevere” no matter what obstacles you face, then again, you will not rise to world-class status.
Last is aptitude. When you first start out and get singled out as “better” than most of the other athletes that is where you start. After you have risen to “elite” status, you have to have the ability to absorb huge amounts of information about the sport you are playing.
I always look at Tiger Woods as a young boy. His father guided him to greatness. Tiger says himself that without his father showing him just about everything he needed to learn he would have simply been an above average player. But he was discovered by many well before he became a professional golfing sensation.
In my own life, I can recall playing with other kids who simply were “head and shoulders” above anyone else on the field. One in particular comes to mind. I had a high school classmate whose athletic prowess was so far beyond anyone else in our school. His name is Rico Petrocelli. He was in my grade. In New York City, there is a citywide recognition level at season’s end for high school athletes. Rico was named to “all city, first team” in Basketball. Funny, he was only “all city – third team” in Baseball.
I attended one baseball game (he played for Sheepshead Bay High School) at which there were no less than a dozen major league scouts. Rico was signed to a professional baseball contract right out of high school. What I think is interesting is that while he was citywide ranked as better in basketball than baseball, he was under six feet tall so professional basketball was simply not in the cards.
When you look at most major league players, you can go back and look at their high school records and often find they were the “best” in three or more sports. You also hear that these elite athletes are told they have to make a “sport decision” before they go any farther. That’s simply because it takes years to mold a raw talent into a professional athlete.
In Rico’s case, he spent four years in the minor leagues before the Red Sox (the only team he ever played for) called him up to the majors. Once he arrived, he never looked back. I think he still holds the club record for the most home runs by a third baseman in one year. And he was an all-star in one year’s all-star game.
At my advanced age I still play tennis (doubles only) four times a week. And I go to LA Fitness just about every morning.
But when it comes to going beyond my meager talent level, I always say: “I’m not an athlete, I’m just an athletic supporter.”