I played basketball at lunch today as I do every monday, wednesday and friday with the consistency of a Lebron James 4th quarter meltdown. It is to say the least a motley crew that populates the court at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Orlando. A few players should leave the gym and never come back. A few may keep playing until they die on the court. The final few have played for several years, absent a performance-compromising injury, without discernable improvement.
This group caught the attention of my friend Tim Larson, who could not come to grips with the fact that these players that duly showed up three days a week for most of the year could not avoid the unique array of miscues that define their “game.” This oddly from a man who claims that he “no longer plays to get better, but just not to get any worse.” A footnote, Larson a few years north of fifty, and when the planets align even close to correctly, can still dunk.
I have recently been absorbed in psychological writings on the subject of elite perfomance. I just finished “The Talent Code”, and am halfway through “Talent is Overrated”. Recommended reading for all that are capable. It struck me quickly that most of the players Larson spoke of have not played organized basketball which meant two things. One, no one had ever instructed them on the right way to do things, and two, they have never submitted themselves to “deep practice”.
“Deep practice” is a level of practice that requires a high level of focus whereby one performs skills at the edge of their present capabilities. It is in this zone that meaningful improvement is made. “The Talent Code” speaks at length of myelin which is a portion of the brain that essentially insulates the circuitry necessary to perform various tasks…..dribbling, shooting, passing, etc. The more the tasks are performed in “deep practice” the more myelin is developed and the more efficiently the action is performed.
Thus we get to Michael Jordan. The greatest basketball player in the history of the game and among the most competitive athletes in all of history. During his athletic prime, Jordan was 6′ 6″ 200 pounds, could jump vertically over 40″, run a 40 in 4.4 seconds and possessed excellent hand eye coordination. For the bulk of his life, his “deep practice” time was invested in basketball. During a strange period of time, Jordan retired from basketball and pursued a career in baseball. He was by any measureable standard the best athlete on his team, and undoubtedly had practice habits and a capacity to focus far more refined than any of his minor league teammates. He failed. Despite his talents, he did not have enough “deep practice” to develop the myelin necessary to play baseball at an effective level.
This post is dedicated to Tim Larson and his inquiring mind. See you friday.