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How Far Can Skill Take You?

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Once upon a time, the two-handed chest pass and the sky hook were enviable skills among basketball players. Similarly, in baseball, most players used to be contact hitters who prided themselves on being an all-around player who could not only hit, but also field and run. In previous years, they really did believe in the age-old adage “practice makes perfect.” However, in our day and age, we see things very differently. Now, I am not saying that we have thrown out practice drills altogether, rather, in sports today practicing hard and developing skills are pretty much a given. Furthermore, children on the playgrounds are not exactly lining up to practice hook shots or bunting. Instead, they try to perfect the homerun ball and the monster dunk. And why? Because they know that skill is only a fraction of what is needed to be successful in sports.

For example, in 1966 Pat Riley, the legendary NBA head coach led his team to the college title game. In those days, he stood a mere 6’3”. Yet, he started at the center position. Nowadays, a 6’3” player is considered a small guard and would be exploited as a week link. However, he and his fellow wildcats were very adept regarding precision passing and shooting with the right form.

As another, more recent, example, take a look at Doug Flutie. He was an amazing college quarterback who brought his team back from a fourth quarter deficit to win the game on what may very well be the greatest Hail Mary of all time. Flutie was able to accomplish so much because of his football intelligence and his will to win. However, once making it to the NFL, he struggled to say the least.

The point I am trying to get at is the fact that skill is no longer what differentiates between the good and the great. Now, everyone and their dog have skill. Skill can only take you so far. So, one question arises – If skill is not the main determinant as to whether or not a player can make it all the way to the top, what is? The answer – Breeding. Take Lebron James for instance. Do you really think that he could be one of the NBA’s best on skill alone? To answer that question, let me pose another question – Could miniscule Steve Nash posterize Tim Duncan with a monstrous dunk the way Lebron did? No way. The reason Lebron is so good is because he is a freak of nature. He is simply bigger, stronger and faster than anyone else. In fact, there are several players in the NBA who are much more skillful than him. But they are not, nor ever will be, King James. Another example is Vince Young. His throwing arm is not that good. His football IQ is not that high. But, have you seen the guy play? No one can catch him. And if someone by sheer luck does finally catch him, they can’t tackle him. Like Lebron, he is too big and too fast to handle. And how did these young men get to be that way? Breeding.

So, to sum up, skill used to be the most important attribute in previous generations. But as previously state, nowadays skill can only take you so far. Let’s face it. Some people were born to be great athletes and some were born to be rocket scientists. The fact that I am 5’10”, 175 pounds does not lend to becoming the all-time great in any sport under the sun. Even if I were to practice every day, acquiring absolutely brilliant skill, I would be no match for the top players in today’s sports world. Honestly, it is a bit surprising that we didn’t realize this sooner, what with all the father and son tandems through the years. Do you think that Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Junior would have been such powerhouse hitters if they didn’t have athletic fathers? What about the Manning family or Rick Barry and his sons? There is absolutely no way that they would have ever achieved their respective levels of success without superior breeding. Again, skill can only take you so far.

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