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Old 01-22-2008, 05:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Becoming a Cleveland Cavalier Was Impossible

Colleagues One And All,

As a youngster my sports heroes were Jim Rice, Walter Payton, and Larry Bird. I was a kid in that particular era and they were my idols. So, not surprisingly, when I was about seven or eight years old I decided that I was going to be a pro athlete. I knew that most professional sports stars had played a variety of sports in their youth so I figured I'd play the "big three" sports, playing each in its given season, and whichever one I happened to play the best was the one I'd play professionally. Back in those days I was under the impression that with sufficient practice and dedication, and perhaps taking a daily One-A-Day Vitamin tablet, I could rise above the average athletes to become one of the elite, one of the professionals. I'm not sure where I got this idea that practice and dedication were all that were necessary, but it came from somewhere. I didn't just make it up myself. I suspect the notion came primarily from my parents with various other area adults adding to the delusion. Television certainly didn't alter my thinking on the matter. Likely I tuned in to some Saturday morning kid show and listened to Dodger 3rd baseman Ron Cey telling me that if I wanted to play big league ball I had to show discipline and practice. He would have been wearing his really keen Dodger uniform with that neat-o blue cap.

Anyway, I really bought into it. I would practice hitting and pitching a baseball, throwing a football, and shooting a basketball whenever there was a spare half hour. I remember going down to the local recreation center in the winter to practice shooting hoops on their lighted outdoor court. There I was, alone, temperature in the 20s, practicing my dribbling and my jump shot. It occurred to me that I had to be the only 11 year-old in the state who was outside practicing my skills, so surely I would one day be not just an NBA player, but an NBA All-Star. I could hardly wait.

I hung on to this fallacy of "practice makes perfect" through most of my childhood despite the fact that when compared to my young piers I was never more than an average player. I suppose my thinking was that I was on the verge of realizing the superb athleticism, the sweet fruits of all my labors. It was just going to kick in one day and the homers and the lightning-quick feet would suddenly be there, allowing me to run roughshod over the competition. I realized I had been living a pipedream during the latter days of the tennis craze, that tennis craze a few decades ago. Some of my friends decided to try tennis and I had come to the conclusion that though it wasn't one of the "big three" sports, playing tennis would help my eye-hand coordination and improve my quickness afoot. The first person I played was a friend from school. He was a dedicated non-athlete whose mother pushed him in to tennis just to force him out of the house and into a little exercise. So one day we went out on the court where he promptly trounced me. Neither of us had ever played tennis but yet he could hit the ball whereas I could not. I continued to both practice and play tennis throughout that summer. Sometimes I would actually win a match but most of the time I would lose. Often I would lose to a kid who had never played little league, peewee football, or any sport at all. These kids would take a few hours away from their coin collections, or their making model airplanes, step out to the tennis court and embarrass me 6-1, 6-0. One time I asked a fellow urchin to play, a kid who would routinely beat me, and he told me no thanks, I needed more practice before I would be a worthy opponent. Nevermind the fact that for every tennis ball he had struck during his brief life I had struck twenty-five.

So it finally dawned on me grudgingly, sadly, that I had been chasing a bum steer. Oddly, all these years later I still don't quite know what to make of the entire revelation. My pie-in-the-sky was the world of athletics, but really it can be in most any field, depending on the individual kid. There have been kids who have longed to be brain surgeons, architects, or great artists, and because of their limited natural abilities or aptitudes have little or no chance of reaching their dream. So what does the responsible adult say to a kid who has a farfetched dream? Good question. I think I'd encourage the kid to do his best, but success is not guarenteed. That's the best answer I can think of.

These days I live by the philosophy of "do your best but expect the worst". I believe that expecting the worst eases the blow of failure and makes success, if it comes, more sweet. I do not believe in the "power of positive thinking", obviously. When I was a fourteen year-old lad on the tennis court, positive thinking got me squat.

Your Pal,

Galileo Smith
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Old 01-22-2008, 07:11 PM   #2 (permalink)
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