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View Diary: Morning Feature: What Are the Odds? (Meta-Monday) (105 comments)

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  •  Growth Lines (10+ / 0-)

    One of the saddest days in my older son's life was the day a doctor told him his growth lines had all filled in or were closed which meant my sixteen year old football playing son would never fulfill his dream of play professional football.  At 5'11", he was all done growing.

    He related his sad story on his law school application and said, if he couldn't fulfill his ambition one way, he would transfer the ambition to something other than football.

    I thought that was very wise for someone so young, and I think we probably all know those who wallow over what could have been, if only...

    •  Athletic excellence is surprisingly capricious. (7+ / 0-)

      It's not simply the genetics of whether you'll grow to the appropriate size, have better-than-average coordination and distance vision, and other physical prerequisites for athletic excellence.  Far more than we recognize, it's a matter of when you were born.  Most youth sports programs use a process called streaming, where the "better" athletes in a given cohort are moved into 'elite' teams and then get better coaching, more practice and playing time, etc.

      But who are those "better" athletes?  Most of the time, they're the kids who were born just after the cut-off date and thus are 9-11 months older than the other kids.  If the cut-off date for youth hockey is January 1st, the "better" athletes will be kids born in January, February, or March.  For proof, look at the birthdates of professional hockey players ... a vastly disproportionate number of whom were born in January, February, or March.

      Add to that the need for parents with the time, interest, and resources to pay for club membership, developmental camps, etc., and the idea that sports is a field where individuals succeed based on their own hard work and dedication falls apart.  They do have to be dedicated and work hard, but all of that hard work and dedication only matters if the other factors put that sport within their "opportunity windows."

      •  This is not only going to "date" me (7+ / 0-)

        but "out" me as an Aries.  In thoroughbred racing January 1 is the arbitrary date set for any foal born in that year.  The closer to Jan. 1 the better the chances of the foal having a lucrative career on the race track.  The famous Secretariat, born March 30, 1970, defied those odds and became the horse who still holds the record time wise for the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes of the Triple Crown.
        Had he not have had stiff competition from a group of gifted horses during that year those records might not have been set.  The "opportunity window" for Secretariat was, in fact, the presence of the other gifted horses who happened to be born the same year, 1070.  

        •  What's around us matters ... a lot. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, winterbanyan, FarWestGirl

          I enjoy most team sports, because I've played most of them at some point in my life.  That's because I grew up in a small neighborhood.  In our sandlot games, no matter what the game being played, in order to have enough players for a game we needed anyone who wanted to play ... boys or girls, 6-year-olds or teenagers.  So if you wanted to play - whatever the sport - the other kids wanted you.

          That also changed how we played the games.  With so many younger kids, there was less focus on winning and a lot less body contact, even in games like touch football or hockey, because nobody wanted (or dared!) to hurt the younger kids.  And the younger kids got a lot of teaching and encouragement on how to skate, or throw a ball, or swing a bat, or whatever.  It wasn't always great coaching, but it was better than none at all.

      •  That first tag (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kj in missouri

        In the realm of athletics, the first tag that gets hung on you (meaning, the first evaluation of what kind of player you are) often tends to stick for a long time. It becomes the narrative frame within which all subsequent information-- your actual performance in the sport-- is interpreted. When Player X makes a great play, s/he's a bum who got lucky. When Player Y makes a crucial error, well, even the best players mess up sometimes.

        The book Moneyball was largely about this phenomenon, and the advantages that accrued to the Oakland A's because their GM, Billy Beane, was one of the first to discount the pet narratives of traditional scouts in favor of more objective, data-driven talent evaluation. His attitude was, "Don't tell me what a great looking prospect some kid is, tell me about his on-base percentage. Don't tell me he's got all the tools, tell me what happens when he's in the game."

        The gatekeepers can become quite invested in their own initial evaluations-- after all, that's supposedly the talent or skill that justifies their own position. The player who's there on a scholarship, or as a high draft pick, gets every chance to succeed. The walk-on or undrafted free agent barely gets a look, and if s/he does somehow get into a game and performs well, it's likely to be seen as a fluke.

        There's a feedback loop on actual performance, too. Much of sports, and life generally, depends on confidence. The kid who knows he'll be in the lineup every day can relax a bit, be patient, shrug off the occasional failure. The one who is almost never on the field when the game is on the line is likely to tighten up if he does somehow get in there, and to blow up or get down on himself if he doesn't convert his one chance.

        Of course, none of this is exclusive to sports. These are general social and psychological patterns. Conservatives seem to be especially weak at recognizing the way that "first tag" influences everthing that comes after. Or, to be more accurate, they don't see it when it works to their favor, but are exquisitely sensitive if it ever seems to work against them. Which, I suppose, is how they figured out what a huge disadvantage it is to be a white male in today's world :)

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