Now That I Know How To Become Bobby Orr, Can I Have A Second Chance?

It’s something I’ve always wondered. Why do some people end up being so talented they can make it to the NHL, or NBA, or write the great novel, or win gold in the Olympics, while most of don’t come within a country mile. Did they work harder than the rest of us? We’re they born with the proper alignment of muscles and tissues?  Or were they simply born with the the right genes that the rest of us didn’t get? And if  they were just born with it, it doesn’t seem fair at all.

Lord knows I worked plenty hard as a kid to get to the NHL. Outdoor rinks before and after school. The same for indoor practices when I got older. I took shot after shot against boards propped up against snowbanks. Running at the track and tennis in the summer to get those legs in shape. No lack of desire, that’s for sure.  But I didn’t even come close. And then you hear that some, like Yvon Lambert and Butch Bouchard, didn’t even play organized hockey until they were fifteen years old. It wasn’t like they worked harder than me.

And what about the extreme cases? How did Bobby Orr become Bobby Orr or Gretzky become The Great One, or Tiger Woods becoming what he’s become, or any athlete who rose above the rest? Were they born with it, or did they just work harder than the rest of us? Did Wayne Gretzky work harder than Kyle Wellwood, for example. Did Wellwood work harder than me?

David Brooks talks about this in the New York Times. He talks of Mozart, and how his early abilities were far from special, how he wouldn’t have stood out among today’s top young performers. But he says Mozart had the same thing Tiger Woods had – the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and built from there. Just like Woods did, and Gretzky. Brooks says top performers spend many more hours rigourously practicing their craft. So as much as I thought I practised a lot, it probably wasn’t near enough.

The article goes on to say that the mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills, but the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance. Then a young athlete or writer, for example, finds a mentor who provides feedback, views the performance from the outside, corrects the smallest errors, and pushes the person to take on tougher challenges.

“The brain is phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behaviour. It’s not who you are, it’s what you do.”

Apparently the rest of us didn’t do enough, and that’s why you and I never became Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky, or even Kyle Wellwood. But the article never does explain how someone like Lambert or Bouchard can make it to the bigs only a few years after starting to play the game. Maybe there’s no explanation for that.

3 thoughts on “Now That I Know How To Become Bobby Orr, Can I Have A Second Chance?”

  1. I don’t beleive that anyone can become a professional athlete. I find that sort of ridiculous. It may be true but it would take some solid facts to convince me.

    The only thing in this article that I think applies is the ability to focus. I think Wayne Gretzky is born with perfect ingredients to be a hockey player (mentally and physically). I think it’s sort of like an IQ. Not everyone has the chance to have an IQ of 140, they were born with it.

    As for focusing, unless you are naturally good at focusing (as in you were born with it), it instantly becomes a catch 22. It’s hard for me to explain. In fact I can’t explain it at all. To make a long story short, the only way to focus is to not try to hard, but you can’t do that when you have trouble focusing in the first place so you have to think about the intructions on how to focus but that pushes you over the edge of trying to hard and it just goes in circles from there. It’s complicated, and I can’t explain it well. I recently read this book called “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey and he explains it really well. It applies to all sports, even studies.

    Personally, I have problems focusing, even though I do well at school. I’d be getting 100% if I knew how to focus.

  2. Maybe if we could control our mind better. You know the old thing about how we use only a small percentabe of our brain – maybe that’s it. Maybe the Dalai Lama could’ve played pro hockey if Tibet had ice. I don’t know. I’ve been wondering why some make it and most don’t all my life.

  3. genetics
    some people are born with the fine motor skills, physical coordination, kinaesthetic sense and ability to process and interpret external stimuli instantaneously whilst the rest of us are not blessed with those gifts. I could practice on a sheet of ice for thousands of hours and not do the things in a game gretzky did (even if i do think some fawning hockey writers have over-valued him a tad because he was a better interview than a few of the greats who came before him and after him). Likewise, a mario lemieux was instantly a great player even though, admittedly, he was deemed lazy (at least in the sense of looking after his physical being) even as a child.

    I think we tend to over-intellectualize things when it comes to why some people have profound success whilst others do not; it really is all in the genes and I don’t think we need to go any further than that. Combine innate physiological, mental and fine motor gifts with ambition and discipline and you have success.

    I don’t think it’s anything mystical – though maybe I don’t care enough about this subject to really get into it.

    Anyway, Brooks lost me when he starting talking about Mozart not standing out as a child; truth is, many exceptionally gifted people take a little while to start realizing their true potential – either because of lack of application or because of lack of a proper environment. the talent was always there; it was just a matter of maturing sufficiently to devote oneself to its optimization.

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