In Mr. Leever’s essay, Exploring North American development — what are we missing?, he points out that North American junior racers are indeed successful, however these athletes struggle to make the jump to the next level. He also makes an excellent point concerning culture and family influence but his argument only scratches the surface.
The UK is about the same size as Michigan and music fans have often wondered how so much great rock n’ roll was produced on those dreary islands during the late 60’s and early 70’s. If you were in Led Zeppelin than your direct competition was the Rolling Stones, so the bar was set pretty high. Clapton had his eye on Hendrix, Pink Floyd was checking out Bowie and everybody was watching the Beatles. Talent begets talent and within the social sphere, this is called the proximity effect. Talent hotbeds are not altogether uncommon. The tiny regions of Flanders in Belgium and the Basque Country in Northern Spain produce more elite pro cyclists in a smaller land mass than anywhere else in the world. In 1978 Nick Bollettieri opened the first tennis boarding school and changed the way the sport was taught. IMG bought the academy in 1987 and the agency has been producing champions ever since. If there is one golden rule to skill and talent acquisition, it is the law of high volume. The experts say its 1000 hours per year, if we break it down that’s 5 hours per day, 5 days a week for 10 months out of the year. An ambitious kid can’t hit those numbers in isolation and summer skiing with the family isn’t going to cut it either.
Deliberate practice and a high volume of hours is only the first step in developing a performance strategy. Talent is not the end point either, it’s just the beginning. The real question should not be, how do we develop talent but how to reach one’s full potential. Mr. Leever cites the cases of Tom Brady and Steph Curry, everyone has 20/20 vision is hindsight, so for every Brady that made it; there are many out there who were just like him but slipped through the cracks. Recognizing a good performance is not so hard, but how many coaches can claim they really know how to recognize hidden potential?
Mr. Leever also mentions the safety net – sometimes it’s better to have no plan B. More than a 3rd of the Dominican Republic lives on less than $1.25 a day and over 20% of the country lives in extreme poverty and yet this little island has the 2nd highest number of Major League baseball players after the USA. Young Dominicans are prepared to do whatever it takes to make it – no matter how many hours or how much pain and sweat a player must endure – its do or die.
Passion and talent can only take you so far. What happens when you pass through the ranks and find yourself in a place where everyone is passionate and talented? According author and psychologist Angela Duckworth, the X factor in expert performance sometimes comes down to grit. In her book Grit: the Power or Passion and Perseverance, Ms. Duckworth points out that effort “counts twice”.
talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement
Switzerland, Austria, France, and Italy will always have an advantage. If you are a young Swiss racer, you know that your contemporaries are training right now, just over yonder, maybe just on the other side of that peak. The amount of FIS licenses in North America is a moot point. Most US citizens have the right to vote for president but only half the population turns out on Election Day. Not all strategies succeed due to overwhelming numbers. Spain has as many ski areas as Croatia and Slovenia combined yet fails to produce noticeable results.
If you want to be among the best of the best, than you need to come face to face with your direct competition on a regular basis. Apex2100 International Ski Academy openly declares their goals of creating future Olympic and World Champions. On the surface it looks like they’ve put together a solid program, but the outcomes of a strategy are only as good as its execution.
There are no short cuts to the top however there are ways to become more efficient and effective. As they say, the devil is in the details and the solution to some challenges may be staring you in the face, you just need to look at it from a different angle.
— Douglas Barney
This letter was submitted in response to the article, Fall Line: Exploring North American development — what are we missing? Have some thoughts on this? Send a letter to the editor. If it’s good, we’ll publish it.
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