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  #1  
Old 12-31-2006, 07:49 PM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Could anyone become a top athlete, if they trained hard enough?

How much of a chance could a typical person have to reach (or get close to) the peak
performance of an elite athlete, if he tried hard enough and worked at it hard enough?

For the sake of argument we'll say roughly the same height and build as a top
athlete in the sport in question (hence basketball players would have different
base physical requirements than say football offensive linemen). Assume also that
they would have access to the same training tools and nutritional supplements
that the pros would have, and they have been working at it since at least age 10
or so.

In other words how much is the performance of Woods, Federer, LaDamian
Tomlinson, Lebron James, et al. due to nature, and how much is due to nurture?
Are there people out there who would have made it with the proper tools and
motivation, but gave up (for whatever reasons) somewhere along the line? Or
does natural talent eventually come into play at some level, weeding out those
with lesser gifts no matter how hard they try to keep up?

I realize that there is a lot there to cover, so feel free to tackle a few aspects at
a time. I guess us normal types have this fantasy that we could have made it in
sport X if we had started early enough, but by the time we got the motivation the
opportunity was gone. There's always those few late bloomers to consider (like
that guy who played for the Eagles IIRC a few years ago).

Of the major NA pro sports I think hockey defenseman might be one of the easier
ones, if you had years of experience. There's always been defensemen who
at least had reps of not being stellar physical specimens (Larry Murphy) having
long successful careers, as anticipation is 9/10ths of the battle-but what do I know?
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  #2  
Old 12-31-2006, 08:02 PM
don't ask don't ask is offline
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I think there are two different groups here, really absolutely top class almost freakishly good athletes like several you have mentioned and then your average professional. I know from my years around sport in Australia that the majority of professionals come from the top tier of junior sport but aren't necessarily the most naturally gifted but rather those with the most desire, conviction and ego resources.
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  #3  
Old 12-31-2006, 08:22 PM
Lamar Mundane Lamar Mundane is offline
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I've met/known a few professional athletes, although none were of the super-freak athlete type. They were, however, the most amazingly dedicated and competitive people I have ever met. Their determination to suceed surpasses almost everything else in their lives.

I don't think you can train that into a person.

Come to think of it, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are described in the same terms, so maybe they're all like that.
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  #4  
Old 12-31-2006, 09:50 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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No, I don't believe so.

As Lamar Mundane points out, pro athletes are generally astonishingly hard-working, competitive people. However, some people unquestionably are more physically gifted than others.

As anyone who's been on this board awhile knows I am a passionate fan of baseball, and I have played a lot of baseball. I'm a big guy - 6'2" - but the absolute fastest I can throw a baseball is about seventy miles an hour. That might sound fast but it's not. With a LOT of training I might have been able to get to 80, but that's still not nearly enough to be a major league pitcher. On the other hand, Pedro Martinez, who is a small man and doesn't appear to be very strong, was able to throw a fastball 97 miles an hour. A few years back I played a practice game against a team with a girl third baseman who couldn't have been 5'7", 140 pounds tops, and she had an arm like a rifle - I mean, 85 MPH easy.

Some people' arms are simply built to throw the ball really, really hard, and some are not.

Now, maybe there's some sport I never tried very hard that didn't require a strong arm that I coulda been good at, but likely not. It's impossible to watch someone like Wayne Gretzky - himself not a terribly impressive physical specimen - and not think some guys are just born with a knack. Some people are born smarter than others; some are born better athletes than others. And it's not just physical strength and speed, as Wayne Gretzky demonstrates.
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Old 12-31-2006, 09:56 PM
bannerrefugee bannerrefugee is offline
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I know a guy, who won the masters cycling road race in a competitive southern state twice. He also set it up for his master’s team at least once. He drinks a lot. His training is to quit drinking for a while. He is quite fat when in bad shape. The man killed us. Talent is incredible. Unfortunately training only helps
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  #6  
Old 12-31-2006, 10:03 PM
Rick Rick is offline
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I am going partially agree with Rick many top athletes are genetic freaks of one type or another.
Lance Armstrong's VO2 max is way over normal
It was reported in Sports Illustrated that Mark Spiz (7 gold medals for swimming) had knees that bent slightly forward. Giving him just that much more kick.

But in addition to that, you have to have the opportunity and dedication.
There might be 10,000 other guys that have Lance's VO2 max numbes (or better) but if they never get on a bike...
Or if they party all the time in the off season instead of training (see Jan Ullrich)
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  #7  
Old 12-31-2006, 10:08 PM
iano iano is offline
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Being an elite endurance athlete is highly dependent on genes. Being able to be the best in that field is a matter of how efficient one's body is in utilizing oxygen, how quickly one's body dissipates heat, and so on. I forget the exact number, but I believe a hard-training runner simply cannot modify their VO2 max, a key measure of performance, by more than 10-15%(?). This is less than the advantage the top atheletes are born with. Nothing to be done about it.
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  #8  
Old 12-31-2006, 11:12 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Most top athletes, in addition to all the hard work, chose their parents carefully. In other words, heredity has a great deal to do with one's physical ability.
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  #9  
Old 01-01-2007, 12:28 AM
Hampshire Hampshire is offline
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I worked a couple years with a guy who used to be on the Packers practice squad. He said there were all types of players.
Some guys were religious about training, practicing, eating right, working out and lived and breathed their passion for the sport every day. They gave it 100% dedication. Some of these guys were good and some struggled to make the cut.

He said there were also the ones who were just naturally gifted, ate whatever they liked, liked to party a lot (drinking, etc.), would just coast through practices, and were still stars of the team.

He said a lot of the 100% dedicated guys resented the naturally gifted ones.
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  #10  
Old 01-01-2007, 01:10 AM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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Training, dedication, etc. certainly enhance any athelete's skills, but I'd say top athletes are special human beings, genetically. People used to blabber about how hard Larry Bird worked to overcome his deficiencies, slowness, etc., but jeez he was always an extremely coordinated 6'9" guy who saw everything on the court, could jump easily and shoot the ball perfectly under intense pressure from some of the best athletes in the world. Can't train that sort of thing up. Carl Lewis could always run faster and jump farther than anyone else around him, Jim Brown was always better than anyone on the field and Ted Williams could always hit better than anyone, etc. Of course I'm exaggerating a bit, but generally the same can be said of all top athletes, none trained themselves up to that level IMHO, but simply enhanced what they had. I used to do a little sports stringer work when I was in school for the local newspaper, and got to cover a lot of pro, college and amateur stuff, and once you got close up even at the lower levels of the sports you could sense how well put-together those guys were, amazing physcial specimens.


Bird steals the ball! Bird steals the ball!
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  #11  
Old 01-01-2007, 01:37 AM
Chasing Dreams Chasing Dreams is offline
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Anyone could become a top athlete if they participated in gene therapy. However, this is explicitly prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency: http://www.wada-ama.org/en/prohibitedlist.ch2

I'm not sure if any born human being has actually been genetically modified for sport so I can't say for sure if gene therapy would work in practice.

However, even with gene therapy, I think it would be very hard for a single person to be a top athlete across the spectrum of sports. For road cycling, you need a large amount of slow twitch versus your fast twitch muscles to enable you to ride for a long time. In sprint events such as a 100 m running sprint, you need a large mount of fast twitch versus slow twitch muscles. To be Bruce Lee, you would need to have a very well developed nervous system to allow you to move like lightning. To be a good swimmer, you would need feet like those of Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons. To be a basketball player, you would have to be a giant and be able to put your arms around three girls at once . Well, you get the idea.

Each person's body type will be better geared towards some sports than others. You can't be world class at everything no matter how hard you train.

Now with that in mind, has anybody perfected the technique of downloading the human brain? I bet I can pay a evil scientist to make me a hundred bodies, each specialized at a different sport
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  #12  
Old 01-01-2007, 01:46 AM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chasing Dreams
To be Bruce Lee, you would need to have a very well developed nervous system to allow you to move like lightning.
Nitpick: Lee wasn't a top athlete, he was an actor. Same with that wanker Chuck Norris for that matter.
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  #13  
Old 01-01-2007, 02:06 AM
Chasing Dreams Chasing Dreams is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Operation Ripper
Nitpick: Lee wasn't a top athlete, he was an actor. Same with that wanker Chuck Norris for that matter.
I would have to disagree with you here. Lee was a martial artist first and THEN an actor. Have you seen the bad acting in his movies? The guy's acting doesn't cut the cheese but it was the eloquence of his fighting scenes that helped to gain him fame.

Even though Bruce didn't participate in many fights, he is still a top athlete because there is more than one way of becoming considered the best at what you do.

Read about what some of people that knew Bruce Lee say about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_lee

If you still don't believe me, then I'm going to unleash my one-inch punch on you
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  #14  
Old 01-01-2007, 02:18 AM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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Hehehe, well played sir.


Sudden Five-Point-Palm Exploding Heart Technique strike. Farewell mate!
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  #15  
Old 01-01-2007, 04:44 AM
Santo Rugger Santo Rugger is offline
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No.

Even at the level of sport I play, there are guys who don't train, yet are stars of the team, and those that work their tails off just to be meideocre.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Operation Ripper
Nitpick: Lee wasn't a top athlete, he was an actor. Same with that wanker Chuck Norris for that matter.
Talk like this will get you killed in some parts of the world.
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  #16  
Old 01-01-2007, 07:36 AM
GuanoLad GuanoLad is offline
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I've often thought that if you are not genetically the right body type for any given sport, then you're never going to reach the elite levels, you'll always be beaten by those who do possess the right genetic mix and at best would only get to be better-than-average.

Though that may depend on the sport. Archery, or bowls, or sports of that ilk, might be within anybody's capabilities, potentially.
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  #17  
Old 01-01-2007, 09:59 AM
solkoe solkoe is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay
It's impossible to watch someone like Wayne Gretzky - himself not a terribly impressive physical specimen - and not think some guys are just born with a knack. Some people are born smarter than others; some are born better athletes than others. And it's not just physical strength and speed, as Wayne Gretzky demonstrates.
Wayne Gretzky had a rink in his backyard and he played everyday. They couldn't get him off the thing.
I have a rink in my backyard and my kids could care less.
I think that some people have a natural affinity towards certain activities. Then they have the opportunity to express that affinity. Part natural gift, part luck.
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  #18  
Old 01-01-2007, 10:49 AM
Don't fight the hypothetical Don't fight the hypothetical is offline
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I would say no. Being "roughly the same height and build " isn't enough. In addition to the above mentioned desire, etc. you also need the correct ratio of fast twitch/slow twitch muscles in your body architecture.
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  #19  
Old 01-01-2007, 11:00 AM
Nars Glinley Nars Glinley is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Operation Ripper
Nitpick: Lee wasn't a top athlete, he was an actor. Same with that wanker Chuck Norris for that matter.
Chuck Norris (according to Wiki)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wikipedia
In 1969, he won Karate's triple crown for the most tournament wins of the year, and the fighter of the year award by Black Belt Magazine.
I'd say that his athletic abilities far exceed his acting ones.
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  #20  
Old 01-01-2007, 12:34 PM
FlightlessBird FlightlessBird is offline
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The OP mentions the top athletes in their respective sports. Jordan, Gretzky, Woods, even the top tiers players in their sports can't be like them. If you change the question to asking if a 'average person' can earn a living in professional sports, I say yes. The league minimums are still more than I make. You're not going to be a pitcher, a goalie, a power forward without some natural talent. But if you are smart, can perform sport-tasks consistently and have some drive, I think you could be a lineman, a winger, an outfielder.

I know it's a common thread around here, so I don't want to get bogged down in "Is Golf a sport", but the average guys in golf are merely statistically consistent with occasional moments of luck. They play a lot, and rarely have multiple consecutive bad shots.

I have no knowledge, this is all speculation.
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  #21  
Old 01-01-2007, 01:19 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlightlessBird
The league minimums are still more than I make. You're not going to be a pitcher, a goalie, a power forward without some natural talent. But if you are smart, can perform sport-tasks consistently and have some drive, I think you could be a lineman, a winger, an outfielder.
Not a chance, at least in the American professional leagues. The reflexes that are required to hit a baseball or block a DB or skate to a puck at a professional level do not come just with practice. People underestimate just how difficult those skills are.
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  #22  
Old 01-01-2007, 02:46 PM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KRM
Chuck Norris (according to Wiki)
I'd say that his athletic abilities far exceed his acting ones.
Yeah, but wasn't that sorta non-contact stuff, more art than sport?
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  #23  
Old 01-01-2007, 02:47 PM
solkoe solkoe is offline
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Another point.
Studies of pro hockey players show that most of the them were born in the first half of the year. It makes sense. They are competing against kids born in the same calender year. At an early age, the kids born earlier in the year will have superior strength and coordination compared to their "younger" counterparts. Eventually these kids rise to the top and then dominate the sport. It would be interesting to find if this is true for other sports.
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Old 01-01-2007, 03:23 PM
Cisco Cisco is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by solkoe
Another point.
Studies of pro hockey players show that most of the them were born in the first half of the year. It makes sense. They are competing against kids born in the same calender year. At an early age, the kids born earlier in the year will have superior strength and coordination compared to their "younger" counterparts. Eventually these kids rise to the top and then dominate the sport. It would be interesting to find if this is true for other sports.
Cite? I guess I could maybe see this making sense for the kids who played in kindergarten and it then starts a chain reaction of confidence, but even at age 5, I can't see being a few months older making that much of a difference, and definitely not at the high school level and beyond.

I believe there are certain instances where natural "gifts" come into play - Jeff Monson, for instance, is probably the better athlete and more talented fighter than Tim Sylvia, but there's no way he could overcome an 11" height difference and 50+ pound weight difference in their fight. There were times when Monson had wide open shots, was swinging for the fences, and his fists literally did not reach Sylvia's face. Lance Armstrong's VO2 max has been mentioned, and the Thorpedo's feet come to mind. Far more common, however, is that we normal people with everyday lives just can't comprehend how hard these people train. Even the guys who "eat whatever they want" and "don't train" are training a lot more than we could imagine - they're probably just not training quite as hard as their peers (and this WILL catch up to them with age.)

Even if the average guy might not have the potential to be the next Ian Thorpe, he has the potential to be far, far greater than he probably thinks.

And how many of us would really want to give up nearly everything else in our lives to be really great at one sport? Personally, my interests are too broad.
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  #25  
Old 01-01-2007, 03:38 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John DiFool
How much of a chance could a typical person have to reach (or get close to) the peak
performance of an elite athlete, if he tried hard enough and worked at it hard enough?

For the sake of argument we'll say roughly the same height and build as a top
athlete in the sport in question (hence basketball players would have different
base physical requirements than say football offensive linemen). Assume also that
they would have access to the same training tools and nutritional supplements
that the pros would have, and they have been working at it since at least age 10
or so.

In other words how much is the performance of Woods, Federer, LaDamian
Tomlinson, Lebron James, et al. due to nature, and how much is due to nurture?
Are there people out there who would have made it with the proper tools and
motivation, but gave up (for whatever reasons) somewhere along the line? Or
does natural talent eventually come into play at some level, weeding out those
with lesser gifts no matter how hard they try to keep up?

I realize that there is a lot there to cover, so feel free to tackle a few aspects at
a time. I guess us normal types have this fantasy that we could have made it in
sport X if we had started early enough, but by the time we got the motivation the
opportunity was gone. There's always those few late bloomers to consider (like
that guy who played for the Eagles IIRC a few years ago).

Of the major NA pro sports I think hockey defenseman might be one of the easier
ones, if you had years of experience. There's always been defensemen who
at least had reps of not being stellar physical specimens (Larry Murphy) having
long successful careers, as anticipation is 9/10ths of the battle-but what do I know?
Top-notch athletes all have exceptional coordination, balance and timing. Without those physical attributes you can become better but you will never play major league baseball, be in the NBA, or on the PGA tour and you won't win even a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.
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  #26  
Old 01-01-2007, 03:45 PM
gonzomax gonzomax is offline
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Training can improve the talents your are born with. It can make you faster ,if you already are fast. It can help your pitching if you can aready throw hard. But it can not make a weak thrower a good one or make a slow runner into a world class sprinter.
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  #27  
Old 01-01-2007, 03:47 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by solkoe
Wayne Gretzky had a rink in his backyard and he played everyday. They couldn't get him off the thing.
Beleive me, I know about playing hovkey every day. I'm Canadian. LOTS of Canadian boys play every day. They play winter and summer, they play until their parents have to search the neighborhood to find them. But most of them never sniff junior-A, much less the NHL.

Gretzky was being called "The Great One" when he was ten years old, when he scored 378 goals in a 70-game season, and apparently would have scored 600 or more if he'd wanted to but would stop trying to score goals and would just set his teammates up once the game was out of hand. And during the summer, he played baseball, not hockey - and, according to many eyewitnesses, could have been a major league ballplayer if he'd pursued that. He was a scratch golfer within a year of taking that sport up.

Some people are just wired for it. Something about the way Gretzky's brain is designed gives him a sense of how to play sports.
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  #28  
Old 01-01-2007, 03:49 PM
doreen doreen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlightlessBird
The OP mentions the top athletes in their respective sports. Jordan, Gretzky, Woods, even the top tiers players in their sports can't be like them. If you change the question to asking if a 'average person' can earn a living in professional sports, I say yes. The league minimums are still more than I make. You're not going to be a pitcher, a goalie, a power forward without some natural talent. But if you are smart, and have some drive, I think you could be a lineman, a winger, an outfielder.
The "can perform sport-tasks consistently" is the hard part. I'm not exactly uncoordinated, but I am far from athletic. No matter how much I train, or how much I want to, I am never going to be able to hit a ball coming at me at 80 mph. I'm never going to be able to consistently judge where I should be and how fast I need to get there to catch that ball in the outfield.There's a certain quality that all good athletes have - I'll call it " body intelligence" that I don't have. Being able to perform those tasks consistently is a talent in itself.
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  #29  
Old 01-01-2007, 04:00 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RickJay
Beleive me, I know about playing hovkey every day. I'm Canadian. LOTS of Canadian boys play every day. They play winter and summer, they play until their parents have to search the neighborhood to find them. But most of them never sniff junior-A, much less the NHL.

Gretzky was being called "The Great One" when he was ten years old, when he scored 378 goals in a 70-game season, and apparently would have scored 600 or more if he'd wanted to but would stop trying to score goals and would just set his teammates up once the game was out of hand. And during the summer, he played baseball, not hockey - and, according to many eyewitnesses, could have been a major league ballplayer if he'd pursued that. He was a scratch golfer within a year of taking that sport up.

Some people are just wired for it. Something about the way Gretzky's brain is designed gives him a sense of how to play sports.
That can really piss you off if you let it get to you. When I was going to college I lived in a trailer park and a bunch of us played golf. One guy outside the group heard us talking about it and said he had never played and wondered it he could give it a try with us. He had won an event and finish high in a couple of others in the high school division of the Drake Relays. He had also been a member of a basketball team that finished second or third in the state championships.

So, the first time he played he shot somewhere in the low 90's. For you non-golfers, a good percentage of those who play golf never break 100. In a couple of months he was in the low 80's and by the end of the semester he was down in the single digit handicap range.

Disgusting.
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  #30  
Old 01-01-2007, 04:27 PM
Si Amigo Si Amigo is online now
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Wouldn't a military boot camp be a good example of this not being possible from a practical stand point? Whether in a draft type situation (like Vietnam) or a popular war (say WWII) there are numerouse guys that don't make the cut (i.e. team) even though they are given plenty of positive and negative reinforement to succede. I've seen people who volunteered to go into the service enter in seemingly good physical and mental condition only to come back later with bad knees or bruised psyches.
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  #31  
Old 01-01-2007, 05:10 PM
Cisco Cisco is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by doreen
The "can perform sport-tasks consistently" is the hard part. I'm not exactly uncoordinated, but I am far from athletic. No matter how much I train, or how much I want to, I am never going to be able to hit a ball coming at me at 80 mph. I'm never going to be able to consistently judge where I should be and how fast I need to get there to catch that ball in the outfield.There's a certain quality that all good athletes have - I'll call it " body intelligence" that I don't have. Being able to perform those tasks consistently is a talent in itself.
I would disagree with this. Go spend the next 15 years standing in front of about 500,000 80mph pitches and you would be shocked at how good you are at hitting them.

A lot of it is mental. I've beat lots of guys in arm wrestling whom I know for a fact are stronger than me. I just keep my cool and give everything I've got to not lose and eventual they wear themselves out and I win. It's the same with sports - if you know you can find that extra reserve somewhere deep inside of you and you train yourself to tap into it - you're going to do better than the guy who does nothing but train but has very little mental or emotional resilience when it comes competition time.

Last month I was in a triathlon and one of the competitors was 49 years old and beared a striking resemblance to Phil Margera. He came in the top 50 out of a field of 200+ and I guarantee you that he was in much worse shape than everyone he beat. Hardly anyone else there was even a little bit chunky - this guy was downright obese. He had confidence, though. He placed himself in the top 20 when we lined up for the swim and, yeah, he got passed a few times, but appearences obviously didn't mean much to this guy.
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  #32  
Old 01-01-2007, 05:22 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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If you look at American professional athletes and those contending in other elite sports such elite activities as the Olympic you will notice that there are two factors. One is body type and genes. A guy who is 5'3'' obviously isn't going to have a good chance in the NBA but it goes well beyond that. People have different levels of endurance, the right types of muscles for that sport, and no extreme predisposition to injury that cause them to leave competition.

The other factor is the dedication to practice and work hard at the sport to make it to the elite levels. This part is usually essential as well but it causes confusion when people read how hard X worked to get to where he/she is. The implication becomes that most people that applied themselves just that hard could achieve the same thing.

That part is not true. What is happening is that there are a lot of people with the right genes and a lot of people with the right willingness to train relentlessly necessary to succeed in a given elite sport but it takes the intersection of both to succeed in an elite major sport. That combination is mostly not under the control of individuals. An analogy is saying that people work hard to become doctors. Noble Prize winners work even harder therefore any child should be able to become a doctor with some work and a Noble Prize winner with a little more.

The notion is insulting to those that are trying their hardest even with expert help at the lower levels of elite sports. Many college football players at Division II schools would love to transfer to Division I. Likewise, second string quarterbacks are continually trying to improve to get the first seat at any team, even the worst one and minor league baseball teams are filled with people that have no other goal or purpose other than to start in a Major League Game one day. Most of these will never make it although they were the best of the best where they came from before and have no barriers other than their own abilities.

The people that are stars in elite sports today tend to be freaks of nature and psychology.
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  #33  
Old 01-01-2007, 05:48 PM
Dignan Dignan is offline
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The main skill that can contribute to being a successful athlete is speed. There are all kind of cliches I've heard from when I played sports in high school about "speed kills" or how "You can't coach/teach speed." I know a few guys that played college sports at the Division II level, but may have competed against Division I guys, or pros in camps or pick-up games. The common theme when you ask about the level of talent, is just how fast everything happens with the really talented players. They move so much faster than "regular" people that it isn't even a contest. This is why you'll see blow outs when a Top 10 NCAA team will play some small school.

Speed could probably be improved with training, but you can only do so much. A natural gift for speed (or vision, in the case of Gretzky, Bird, et al) is required in almost all cases. Of course it doesn't guarantee success, as some of the fastest people in track or other sports aren't able to transition to something like football or baseball, but their exceptional speed is still enough to get them a try out, where the average person won't get a second glance.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
Cite? I guess I could maybe see this making sense for the kids who played in kindergarten and it then starts a chain reaction of confidence, but even at age 5, I can't see being a few months older making that much of a difference, and definitely not at the high school level and beyond.
There was an article by the Freakonomics guys in The New York Times a while back, called A Star Is Made.

It was a study of elite soccer players. If I remember right, it found that most of them were born earlier in the year. This wasn't necessarily because talented people are usually born earlier in the year, but because of age cutoffs for youth soccer leagues. Kids born earlier in the year are usually more physically developed than kids born later in the year that would just make the cutoff. Therefore, the older kid, even if only by a few months, would make the team and then get kind of a virtuous (vicious?) cycle going where they're playing against the top talent, and continue to develop and improve, so they keep making the select teams and keep playing against other talented players.

The article does come down in favor of the idea that you can train yourself to be talented, or even exceptional at selected tasks if you work hard. Although it does seem to make a point that, as I stated above, some natural talent is needed to be truly great.
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Old 01-01-2007, 06:16 PM
doreen doreen is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
I would disagree with this. Go spend the next 15 years standing in front of about 500,000 80mph pitches and you would be shocked at how good you are at hitting them.
I've spent 20 years throwing a bowling bowl. The highest I ever averaged was 162-(last year). My son averaged that by the age of 11. He didn't bowl any more games than I did.He is also a very good baseball player, a good golfer and okay at pick-up basketball and hockey. He is a naturally talented athlete- I am not.
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Old 01-01-2007, 06:19 PM
David Simmons David Simmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dignan
Although it does seem to make a point that, as I stated above, some natural talent is needed to be truly great.
Yeah. As has been noted, Joe DiMaggio didn't make spectacular diving catches in the outifeld. The ball always came right to him. Funny how that happens. One favorite saying after a spectacular catch by a player, "DiMaggio would have been waitin' for it."
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Old 01-01-2007, 08:50 PM
Schuyler Schuyler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
Quote:
Originally Posted by solkoe
Another point.
Studies of pro hockey players show that most of the them were born in the first half of the year. It makes sense. They are competing against kids born in the same calender year. At an early age, the kids born earlier in the year will have superior strength and coordination compared to their "younger" counterparts. Eventually these kids rise to the top and then dominate the sport. It would be interesting to find if this is true for other sports.
Cite? I guess I could maybe see this making sense for the kids who played in kindergarten and it then starts a chain reaction of confidence, but even at age 5, I can't see being a few months older making that much of a difference, and definitely not at the high school level and beyond.
There is, for example, this reference in a Scientific American article on "The Expert Mind" (this quote is from page 5):

Quote:
Furthermore, success builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child's motivation. A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average. In their early years, these children would have enjoyed a substantial advantage in size and strength when playing soccer with their teammates. Because the larger, more agile children would get more opportunities to handle the ball, they would score more often, and their success at the game would motivate them to become even better.
The point being that the physical advantage of a few months extra development at age 7 is more significant than that same age differential at 25.

Regarding the OP - I am in complete agreement with those who have said that physical gifts are one necessary component of sports prowess. And if professional sports people didn't think so too, then they wouldn't 1) be willing to pay the outrageous salaries to top stars and 2) be willing to wait a year or more for some reconstructive surgeries or other rehabilitation in order to get a star player back from injury.
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Old 01-01-2007, 09:32 PM
Cisco Cisco is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Schuyler
Regarding the OP - I am in complete agreement with those who have said that physical gifts are one necessary component of sports prowess.
But your cite is a counter-argument to that. It shows how valuable hard work, confidence (a huge part of the mental game), and devotion to one's sport is.

I'm not saying that everyone is born equal and on a level playing field, but I think development and psychology are much larger aspects than they get credit for.
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  #38  
Old 01-01-2007, 09:58 PM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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There are no formerly-fat, slovenly schlubs with superior intellect and will among the top athletes in any sport anywhere in the world.
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Old 01-01-2007, 10:10 PM
Shagnasty Shagnasty is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
But your cite is a counter-argument to that. It shows how valuable hard work, confidence (a huge part of the mental game), and devotion to one's sport is.

I'm not saying that everyone is born equal and on a level playing field, but I think development and psychology are much larger aspects than they get credit for.
The problem is that "top athlete" isn't defined against some standard that anyone can work towards. It is a percentile score against the entire population first and then within the players in a given sport. All players in all U.S. professional sports will already have been selected to be well over the 99th percentile of all players in their sport. Being just within the best 1% may sound impressive but even that isn't close to being a top athlete in my mind. The top 1% in some sport get produced by most high schools all the time. There are many levels to go above that before someone is even qualified to sit on the bench of a major sports franchise. Assuming that person becomes a starter, there are many levels still remaining to become a superstar. The majority of people get cut at any given level.

This point becomes important when you look at most sports over time. Real records and performance records are continually being pushed to new levels and even player performance overall has increased markably in most sports over the past few decades.

So yes, we can take a given child and give him the best training and the best nutrition and make him a better athlete. The problem is that lots of other people are doing that as well, so an individuals position on the bell--curve still won't shift much.

It takes both natural gifts and dedication to produce an elite athlete. Occasionally you will find someone that depends way more than the usual on one factor or the other both both are still there. Superstars like Michael Jordan are usually at the very top of both physical talent and dedication to improving. In fact, superstar athletes like Michael Jordan who try and fail to succeed at another sport indicate that some people are just better suited to a particular sport.
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Old 01-01-2007, 10:22 PM
Operation Ripper Operation Ripper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagnasty
In fact, superstar athletes like Michael Jordan who try and fail to succeed at another sport indicate that some people are just better suited to a particular sport.
BO frakkin' JACKSON!

2-Sport All Star
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  #41  
Old 01-01-2007, 10:51 PM
RickJay RickJay is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shagnasty
In fact, superstar athletes like Michael Jordan who try and fail to succeed at another sport indicate that some people are just better suited to a particular sport.
Is is telling, though, than Jordan was able at 32 years old to take up pro baseball and have some limited success at the AA level. I mean, I've been trying to play baseball all my life and I couldn't have played AA/AAA ball as well as he did at the peak of my athletic ability.

Had Jordan started playing baseball seriously at age 18, it's perfectly reasonable to believe he might have made the major leagues.
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Old 01-01-2007, 10:56 PM
Cisco Cisco is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Operation Ripper
There are no formerly-fat, slovenly schlubs with superior intellect and will among the top athletes in any sport anywhere in the world.
Look at the contestants on The Biggest Loser. Some of them were upwards of 400lbs, cigarette-smokers, couch potatoes, etc. A few months later they are 160lb of lean, ripped muscle who run, jump, swim, practice martial arts, and more. I bet before that experience most of them would've told you that they just weren't genetically capable of having those bodies or being athletic; they were fat, slow, easily winded their whole lives, etc. Most people will never know what their potential is because they will never push themselves hard enough to find out. The human body is capable of amazing things.

Again, I'm not saying that genetics do not play a part, but I believe psychology, dedication, and conditioning play a much larger role than genetics, and certrainly a larger role than they are getting credit for.

I think it's wrong to perpetuate memes like Michael Jordan is a "freak of nature" and other people shouldn't bother trying to compete with him. Those who never try already outnumber those who give all and fail by orders of magnitude - why add to their numbers?
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Old 01-01-2007, 11:26 PM
Schuyler Schuyler is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
Quote:
Originally Posted by Schuyler
Regarding the OP - I am in complete agreement with those who have said that physical gifts are one necessary component of sports prowess.
But your cite is a counter-argument to that. It shows how valuable hard work, confidence (a huge part of the mental game), and devotion to one's sport is.

I'm not saying that everyone is born equal and on a level playing field, but I think development and psychology are much larger aspects than they get credit for.
I don't think anyone here is seriously saying that you can get to the elite level without dedication and mental gifts - in addition to the required physical skills. It's noble to say that most of us can be much better than we are now (I agree with this) - but elite-level athletics is very much divorced from our regular day-to-day experience. Why do national sports federations worry so much about getting kids early? It's because you need to identify the really talented kids early, then allow them to train all throughout childhood - this is the best way to increase the depth of top athletes.

Quote:
Originally Posted by John DiFool
How much of a chance could a typical person have to reach (or get close to) the peak
performance of an elite athlete, if he tried hard enough and worked at it hard enough?

For the sake of argument we'll say roughly the same height and build as a top
athlete in the sport in question (hence basketball players would have different
base physical requirements than say football offensive linemen). Assume also that
they would have access to the same training tools and nutritional supplements
that the pros would have, and they have been working at it since at least age 10
or so.
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  #44  
Old 01-02-2007, 09:40 AM
solkoe solkoe is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
Cite? I guess I could maybe see this making sense for the kids who played in kindergarten and it then starts a chain reaction of confidence, but even at age 5, I can't see being a few months older making that much of a difference, and definitely not at the high school level and beyond.

I believe there are certain instances where natural "gifts" come into play - Jeff Monson, for instance, is probably the better athlete and more talented fighter than Tim Sylvia, but there's no way he could overcome an 11" height difference and 50+ pound weight difference in their fight. There were times when Monson had wide open shots, was swinging for the fences, and his fists literally did not reach Sylvia's face. Lance Armstrong's VO2 max has been mentioned, and the Thorpedo's feet come to mind. Far more common, however, is that we normal people with everyday lives just can't comprehend how hard these people train. Even the guys who "eat whatever they want" and "don't train" are training a lot more than we could imagine - they're probably just not training quite as hard as their peers (and this WILL catch up to them with age.)

Even if the average guy might not have the potential to be the next Ian Thorpe, he has the potential to be far, far greater than he probably thinks.

And how many of us would really want to give up nearly everything else in our lives to be really great at one sport? Personally, my interests are too broad.
As you can see, the difference is much more dramatic than you might expect.
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Old 01-02-2007, 09:42 AM
solkoe solkoe is offline
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I should add that the differences at ages even up to 7 and 8 can be dramatic. Ask any primary school teacher. They can tell the kids who were born earlier in the year without looking at their records.
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  #46  
Old 01-02-2007, 04:07 PM
Ol'Gaffer Ol'Gaffer is offline
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Originally Posted by RickJay
Is is telling, though, than Jordan was able at 32 years old to take up pro baseball and have some limited success at the AA level. I mean, I've been trying to play baseball all my life and I couldn't have played AA/AAA ball as well as he did at the peak of my athletic ability.

Had Jordan started playing baseball seriously at age 18, it's perfectly reasonable to believe he might have made the major leagues.
I remember an interview some years back with Bob Mathias, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon. He said something along the lines of "If I could train Michael Jordan for two years, he would break the world record in the decathlon."
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  #47  
Old 01-02-2007, 04:35 PM
Raza Raza is offline
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More anecdotal evidence: years ago when I was on a special security response team I ran 5x a week, typically 3 miles, and weight-trained just as often. After two years of this, there's no doubt I was in the best shape of my life, but even so I had to struggle to break a 7-minute mile. Even with another couple of years of training I don't think I'd ever get under 6:30.

A cow-orker that was in a different, less-physical job never worked out or ran. He once remarked that he could run a mile under 6 minutes whenever he wanted. We arranged to have him demonstrate; he ran it in 5:10, and he was several years older than I was at the time (well, I guess he's still several years older than I am).
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Old 01-02-2007, 06:04 PM
kimera kimera is offline
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As other posters have noted, the prevalence of athletes born in the early months of the year suggests that talent is more nuture than nature. What's more, this applies to other fields besides athletics.

From this article:

Quote:
Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect.
You can read the paper on the age effect on European Soccer here (warning PDF)
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Old 01-02-2007, 06:13 PM
kimera kimera is offline
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Here is another article. This is not to say that nature has no impact, just that people tend to overestimate it.
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  #50  
Old 01-02-2007, 07:44 PM
Snarky_Kong Snarky_Kong is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cisco
Look at the contestants on The Biggest Loser. Some of them were upwards of 400lbs, cigarette-smokers, couch potatoes, etc. A few months later they are 160lb of lean, ripped muscle who run, jump, swim, practice martial arts, and more. I bet before that experience most of them would've told you that they just weren't genetically capable of having those bodies or being athletic; they were fat, slow, easily winded their whole lives, etc. Most people will never know what their potential is because they will never push themselves hard enough to find out. The human body is capable of amazing things.
Being 160lbs and "ripped" is nothing like being a top athlete. Back in my soccer playing days I ran around a 6:00 mile. I could bench press 200lbs. I could do 15 pull ups. I played at one of the best youth clubs in America. That's absolutely nothing compared to even a poor division 1 player. I practiced 5 times a week year round and I played against people that smoked a pack a day and never practiced that could run a 5:00 mile and out jump me by 4 inches.

If by top athlete you mean being a substitute for a division 2 college, then maybe although that's probably out of reach for some. If you mean professional, then no, not even close. Might as well ask if you can outrun a horse if you try hard enough.
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