Saturday, August 14, 2010

Great Athletes Are Different, But Pretty Good is Alright.

If you've ever checked out kottke.org, you know it usually lives up to its promise of "fine hypertext products."  While browsing over there,  I stumbled on an essay by Tim Carmody particularly relevant to G:TB readers . . . it's called Athletes are Different from You and Me and since it's Saturday, you might have some time to read it.  It's not long and it might make you feel pretty good about yourself.  It made me feel pretty good.  Pretty, pretty good.


If you don't have time to read the essay, here is a synopsis:  we love and revere great athletes for their skill, perseverance, and competitiveness, but we don't actually like to think about what it takes to perform at this level.  What does it take?  It takes constant and mindless practice, it takes obsessive dedication, it takes drugs . . . legal and illegal, and it takes a mindset that is rather small and possibly sociopathic.  The essay is concise and specific, using Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and BMX biker Mat Hoffman as archetypal examples.  Also, I should probably warn you that there are quotations from David Foster Wallace, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It is an elegant and high quality hyper-text product with interesting links and a nice font.  It is pro-blogging that I aspire to.  Sort of.

Those of you that know me, know that I am a pretty good athlete.  I'm a pretty good soccer player.  I'm pretty good at ping-pong.  And darts.  I'm pretty fast, and I'm a pretty good place kicker.  I play a decent game of tennis.  I'm pretty good at golf.  I'm a pretty good skim-boarder, and I'm a pretty good snow-boarder.  I can hold my own at pool.  I was a pretty good running back.  I managed to run and kick a rugby ball just fine.  I was a decent wrestler.  I am most proud of this fact:  I'm pretty good at basketball.  People who only know me from college might think this is an insane statement, because I was a BAD basketball player entering college, and became an ABSURD basketball player in college (I played on an intra-mural team called the Nick's:  everyone on the team was 5'9" and under and we wore wife-beaters as our uniform . . . and since I was 5'9" and a half, I played center and led the team in scoring but fouled out of every game in the first half . . . things became more bizarre when we added Igor--who is 6'5"-- as our point guard) but after college I worked on my game (with the help of my brother Marc, a local park basketball legend) and by the time I was twenty five, people considered me a pretty good basketball player.  I am a fairly strong swimmer, I toss a decent bean-bag, and I can cast a fly rod with some accuracy. 

Before I read Carmody's essay, I had regretful thoughts about my athletic career. If I practiced putting more, I could have played golf at William and Mary . . .why did I quit soccer for two years to get beat up as a running back? . . . if I had gone to a dedicated place kicking camp, maybe I could have been the next Joe Danelo . . . or even Ali Haji Sheikh! Why didn't I focus?  Why didn't I specialize?  I could have been somebody!
 
But after I read the essay, I realized that pretty good is alright.  To be great, you need to be sort of insane.  You need to dedicate an inordinate amount of time and thought to a very thin sliver of life.  To be somebody in the world of high level athletics can't be all that much fun (besides the groupies-- the groupies are probably a whole lot of fun).

This has happened to me in other areas too.  I'm a pretty good writer, but-- as many of you know-- I'm never going to write a book.  I'm pretty good at the guitar, but I don't think I'm ever going on tour.  I'm a pretty good soccer coach, but I'm happy coaching eighth grade.  Varsity is too much work.  And this post could be better, but I'm probably not going to revise it.  If you want to read something really well done, read Carmody's essay.


Generally, when players are asked why they doped themselves, they say that that is the only way to compete.  Jose Canseco claims steroids made his career: with their help, he went from a runty 5'11" to a musclebound 6'4".  Without them, he would have been nothing.  Slate calls it a love story.  

It would be pleasant to hear a player say that he used steroids so he could spend less time in the weight room and more time with his kids . . . or so he could skip some training to go fishing or help his wife around the house; people might empathize with athletes if they put it that way . . . but I guess that's the logic of someone who just wants to be pretty good.  Pretty pretty good.

16 comments:

1615 said...

每日都有新日光,每日都有新希望。.................................................

Marls said...

1615 hates the font change as much as I do.

rob said...

dave is not a pretty good fontsmith

Dave said...

that other font looked too small or something. feel free to change my font, i am definitely not a pretty good fontsman.

Igor said...

Good post, Dave. Pretty good.

It's interesting to think about your friends and what they are "the best" at. Dave is pretty good at all of those things, but he is truly great at growing a mustache. He's the most prolific reader I've ever met, to which SoD will attest. He will gator your boogie like no man. He can invent a stupid game better than anyone I know. And he the best I ever met at inserting long, deviant monologues into a song.

Dave said...

thanks, igor. you are best at organizing drinking trips, remembering insanely specific details about the past, doing trivia on the fly, and playing eight man while drunk.

rob is best at upright limbo and answering the jeopardy question before you've read it.

Igor said...

That is funny. I had just begun to think about Rob's skills and the first thing that came to mind was "best at speed Jeopardy". And projectile vomiting.

Dave said...

projectile vomiting and ping pong rage.

Dave said...

did anyone actually read the essay on kottke?

Igor said...

Dave, it's just like our English classes in college. You read the material and give us a synopsis injected with your own personal perspective which may or may not have the slightest amount of proximity to the motifs the author intended.

rob said...

i'd like to think i've made significant progress in dealing with my rage issues. i could be wrong.

i'm quite proficient at diving to catch any number of thrown, batted, or kicked sporting objects, whether or not the circumstances actually require a dive.

Igor said...

Hence the "Flying Squirrel."

Igor said...

2 dudes just rode down my street on a tandem bicycle. Nothing gayer.

Dave said...

two dudes simultaneously holding hands and riding unicycles?

or how about the two dudes i saw running down the beach while tandem juggling?

or the two dudes in the park bathroom having an . . . forget it.

Marls said...

Two guys riding down you street on a tandem bike with no seats?

Wigor & Jerry: here is an uplifting view on the mets 2011 prospects. http://bit.ly/axZ9tT

Mark said...

Interesting point to that article. I'd argue that being a great athlete requires an elite level of athletic ability AND tremendous dedication in order to reach the highest level. You can't get there without large doses of each over extremely long periods of time (Kevin Durant is a good example of this).

While Dave is surely a good athlete, I think he underestimates the chasm between "good natural athlete" and "elite/world class athlete". I'm doubtful that greater dedication in any or his athletic endeavors results in his 5'9" body playing professional sports. Probably not even at a Division 1 college. Sorry.

Oh, and Matt Hoffman is a BMX rider, not a skateboarder.