This post was motivated by an argument my father and I had last night about the relative abilities of people to do certain jobs. He claimed that individuals have a particular aptitude for a certain skill, or set of skills, and that for reasons of biology- literally what you're born with- you are more apt to succeed at one thing than another. I disagree, arguing that with enough hard work and practice any individual can master any given skill. Real Science, it seems, is in my corner.
And, happily, it was also the topic of the most recent book review from Khatzumoto! The title? "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. Hmm, provocative!
What he basically says is this:
ANYONE can become a virtuoso at ANYTHING- assuming a biologically normal physiology and psychology. It just takes diligent, deliberate practice. More evidence? The study that Colvin draws from is right here.
Hooray for free information!
Both being hockey fans, the example we argued over is the most dominant figure in modern professional sport: Wayne Gretzky. Dude is pretty amazing. 44 League records, all-time points leader by nearly 100% over his nearest rival and the only player to score more than 200 points in a season (4 times!). Even more amazing, Wayne was playing with 10 year olds at the age of 6, and managing to compete!
How is this possible you ask? Just read the wiki... During the winter Wayne was skating and practicing PROFESSIONAL LEVEL DRILLS with his father from the time he was a little over 2 years old.
From Wayne's autobiography: "All I wanted to do in the winters was be on the ice. I'd get up in the morning, skate from 7:00 to 8:30, go to school, come home at 3:30, stay on the ice until my mom insisted I come in for dinner, eat in my skates, then go back out until 9:00. On Saturdays and Sundays we'd have huge games, but nighttime became my time. It was a sort of unwritten rule around the neighbourhood that I was to be out there myself or with my dad."
Now, check me if I'm wrong, but that's more than 8 hours a day on a SCHOOL day, not including weekends. By the time Wayne was 10 years old, he had EASILY banked 10,000+ hours on the hockey rink. Practicing skills that were not only above his level, but above the level of MOST of the hockey world at the time. This isn't counting possible cross-training from summer sports, particularly lacrosse and baseball. I wonder if he played street hockey at all during the summer...
By the time Gretz hit the NHL... Sorry, the WHA first... the league was going through a major flux. The expansion in the 70s had seriously diluted the talent pool of the sport, created avenues for brutal teams like Philadelphia's 'Broad Street Bullies' to force their way through to a championship on intimidation alone. It is this world that Gretzky entered- when he was an 18 year old rookie he had probably put in more icetime than more than 75% of the league. And Gretzky's numbers reflect it. He WAS that much better than everyone on the ice.
But not because of a natural aptitude for the game that others can't acquire. He put in many long hours of diligent practice, doing things he couldn't do. Then we was gifted with the EASIEST POSSIBLE CONDITIONS under which to perform. If you examine the later stages of his career, once butterfly goaltending catches on, after the league decreased the space behind the net (SPECIFICALLY to deal with the advantage Gretzky had there- its colloquially known as the 'Gretzky Rule'), when the game gets bigger and faster, the other players average talent higher, the advantage diminishes to more human standards. I can definitely see Sidney Crosby, for example, reaching 130 points (The Great One's total for 93-94). Even in the 'new' NHL.
Will the Great One's Records stand forever? Most of them. But that's like asking if baseball stats from 1898 should apply to determining "The Greatest Players of All Time." Its impossible to say. The game is too different. Quite simply, Gretz grew up before the game did. He invented a new way to play the game of hockey, not merely because he was a genius, but because he had mastered the game so early- through diligent practice- that all that was left was to build on what had been given to him.
And he had a puckload of fun while he was at it.
The last argument my father presented was, all else being equal physically and skillfully, it was aptitude- some particular spark of SOMETHING- that gave these men the ability to surpass all others. And to this I will agree.
They are the ones who, after 82 regular season games and four grueling playoff rounds, can skate onto the ice for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final and feel like a kid on the pond. The one who can forget the pain, the hatred, the pressure and bring the fun back to the game.
Hockey is a game. Fun is the X-factor.
You don't have fun by winning, you win by having fun.
Anything you want to do should have the same X-Factor. If its not fun, you'll never motivate yourself enough to diligently practice, to expand your skills.
So there you are Dad. You CAN master any skill you want, so long as you have enough fun at it to practice diligently! We're not born, we're made!