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What Sport Tells Us About Life

Ed Smith

Why there will never be another Bradman(or any one team completely dominate):

Defensive errors in any sport are the result of poor planning and organization. But defensive systems are now well understood and practiced, which means fewer (goals/runs/tries). Pro sports teams now have much better information about the opposition, so much easier to devise strategies to combat exceptional players. And finally, the 'less-good' players are a lot better than they used to be. Average scores in the sports have stayed the same, but for the reasons above, the best players are not as outstanding. So many capable players around that a struggling player gets cut before he has a chance to improve. The gap between the best and the worst as narrowed substantially.

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In the past 'amateur' meant "fair play and stout heart", but today it means slapdash and inept.

Champion teams often have a talismatic force at their center -someone who is certain that the game and the season have been set up as part of his destiny. It's a truism that the best players seem to have 'more time'. One neglected explanation for this is that epic self-belief acts like a partial stun gun on opponents. By the time you've finished asking "What's he gonna do?" the champion player has stolen a head-start.

Some of the greatest players operate only just on the right side of insanity. Sometimes, when the script hasn't gone to plan, they tip over the edge - witness Zidane's headbutt.

This doesn't apply just to sportsmen. Excessive conviction - without which there would be no gurus, no prophets, no religions - has a great deal in common with more conventional forms of insanity. If we examine charismatic leaders, find that evil gurus (the Jim Jones and the David Koresh's) have many of the same positive qualities as respected ones. Conversely, men we regard as saints also exhibit characteristics that we associate with those who are self-deluded or barking mad.

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Academic studied the fortunes of high school beauty queens across America. Fifteen years on, they were typically doing worse, in terms of wealth, careers and happiness, than their less good looking contemporaries. They peaked too early. Maybe things came too easily and they never learned to put in the hard work to succeed.

Billy Beane was a huge precocious talent. At the age of 14 he was 6'4", the high school quarterback, the star basketball player and a peerless baseball player. He had each of the five 'tools' that baseball scouts revere - he could run, throw, field, hit and hit with power. He seemed destined for greatness. Yet he was a complete failure as a player. Phenomenal talent and fierce ambition was not enough. He thought hard about why he had failed, and became a great manager by applying the lessons he'd learned to pick the right players:

Talent in sport over-rated. It only matures within a personality that is capable of self-improvement. And ironically, talent usually protects the athlete from realizing this. They didn't need resilience when they were learning, because it all came easy, and so lacked the capacity to develop it when the game got tougher.

And personality ignored. Managers thought they could graft real resilience onto inert, talented young men. But anything outside conventional high school jock was feared - any independent thinkers were too eccentric.

Failure has a silver lining. It builds up resilience - because you've seen the wheels come off before, you know you can put them back on again.

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