Driven to excel by some deep, unsurveyed urge, I stayed out on that floor hour after hour, day after day, year after year. I played until my muscles stiffened and my arms ached. I persevered through blisters, contusions and strained joints. When I got home I had to take a nap before I could muster enough energy to eat the dinner that sat in the oven. As I grew older and met my basketball heroes, and even defeated some of them, I realized that my way of doing things was not at all unique. Most of the pros had developed their skills by paying their dues in practice time. The biggest myth in basketball is that of the "natural player." Remember that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team.
Many of you who know me are aware that I was a researcher with the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy which was a scientific institute that was designed to create super human athletes by using scientific means. One of the more propelling studies that we conducted was designed to ascertain why the black athlete excelled in sports. It was a rather intriguing inquiry. At the time, there was no athlete in the world who was as great as the black athlete. In just about every sport, the black athlete was enjoying conspicuous success. For instance, the sports of boxing, basketball, karate, track and field, and football were totally dominated by the black athlete. The sports of baseball, wrestling, weightlifting, powerlifter, and bodybuilding while not dominated by the black athlete were significantly influenced by them. In fact, most of the superstars in these sports were black. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that the majority of national and world records were held by black athletes. This took on an even greater perspective considering the fact that blacks comprised only about 14 percent of the American population.
The Academy felt that if they could determine why the black athlete was so great they could use the information to help their athletes. Consequently, they embarked on one of the most comprehensive investigations ever conducted on the black athlete. Not surprisingly, the Academy was hoping that by studying the black athlete they could find a physiological substructure or some characteristic that was responsible for the black athlete's success in sports. They assumed that if there were a biological, anatomical, or bio-mechanical focal point of general motor ability, as well as strength, speed, and endurance, then surely it would be found in the black athlete.
In the seventies, if you were to ask a large group of sports enthusiasts why they thought the black athlete excelled in sports, most of them would tell you that the black athlete was simply physically superior to other athletes. In fact, many of these individuals would probably tell you that blacks were athletically superior because of race linked physical characteristics. In other words, in reference to sports these individuals believed that blacks were genetically superior to other races. Even today, many individuals believe that blacks are physiologically superior to other ethnic groups when it comes to sports.
Certainly, this viewpoint was one that warranted closer attention. After all, it was an issue that was deeply ingrained in the American psyche and one that entailed both extreme partisanship and racism. Did the black athlete possess race-related physical characteristics that gave him an edge?
The Academy recruited researchers throughout the world to investigate this possibility. Their findings were not only surprising, but they were also extremely enlightening, and motivational for all races who are interested in pursuing the joy of athletic competition.
After five years of investigation, the Academy concluded that, although heredity may provide numerous biological advantages, there is strong evidence to suggest that "elite" performance is due more to "quality" training than to genetic superiority. For instance, a series of studies conducted by John Lawther, a researcher who worked for the Academy, found that the number one variable related to elite performance was time spent in training not genetics. Lawther estimated that 20 hours of quality training per week for a period of eight years (approximately 10,000 cumulative hours) appears to be the amount of work required to reach a world class level. Apparently, a certain time is needed for an athlete to learn the most efficient methods and skills for enhancing performance. Even a would-be elite athlete must learn the basics of his sport to build a firm foundation. To train twenty hours a week is, to say the least, very difficult. Yet, as Lawther emphasized, it is twenty hours of quality training with great intensity, not just the time spent in training that is required for elite performance.
Interestingly, the Academy found considerable research which clearly indicated that blacks in general spend significantly more time training and/or playing sports than do whites. They also found some evidence which indicated that blacks not only trained longer, but they trained with greater intensity than their white counterparts. The Academy concluded that the black athlete's dominance in sports was primarily contingent upon their work.
From what I have observed empirically over the last four decades, there is nothing that has changed my mind about what the Academy concluded. It is probably true that most world-class athletes are born with a certain amount of talent, but rarely do they get to compete at the highest level without putting in years of blood, sweat and tears. I will go one step further and say that even prodigies have to work hard to be successful. You could be the greatest physical specimen ever to walk the face of the earth, but if you don't eat, sleep, and train right, you won't be around long. I don't care how much talent you have: if you're going to be successful, you have to work. If you want to be great, you have to pay a price. You have to jump in there and get your hands dirty. There is just no other way.
I worked in professional sports for more than two decades, and I have trained at just about every Olympic training center in the world, and I can say unequivocally, I never saw a world class athlete who didn't spend in an inordinate amount of time in training. In fact, most Olympic coaches and trainers will tell you that it's common for athletes to invest four to eight years training in a sport before making an Olympic team. And those four to eight years consist of 20 to 30 hours of training a week. No wonder there are a lot of people who try and give up.
Needless to say, hard work and perseverance are incredibly powerful and effective assets if put to use. We all have the potential to be far greater than we even imagine. In fact, few of us even come close to reaching our optimal capacity. We can achieve almost anything in life if we are willing to pay the price. Nothing in life is free, and anything worth accomplishing is worth working for. Greatness comes to people who are not afraid of sacrifice and hard work. If you want your dreams to come true, you might as well get it into your head right now that hard work has to be part of the formula.
You know we all want to believe that there is some easy way to reach the end of the rainbow, that there is some magic formula for success. In fact, most athletes and non-athletes are looking for a magic elixir that will transform them into a superman overnight. Well, the magic elixir is a nasty little fabrication that can linger for a lifetime, a fantasy substitute for the reality that we have to work for what we get in life. Work, hard grueling work, is the price we all have to pay to travel the road to greatness. Perhaps that is why so few people qualify as being truly world-class....it just ain't easy.
Yours in Strength