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Deliberate Practice

What Does Babe Ruth Mean?

The author of “Talent Is Overrated — What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” must consider the case of Babe Ruth.

Ruth was the best baseball player of his era and perhaps of all time. He was not only a peerless batter, but a record-setting pitcher.

The trouble for “Talent is Overrated” author Geoff Colvin and others who de-emphasize the idea of innate ability, Ruth seems to have become world-class with a minimum of practice and conscious effort. He was a highly undisciplined person with a huge taste for the nightlife.

I re-connected with Ruth’s legacy recently on a trip to Baltimore. While there I visited the Babe Ruth Birthplace, and got closer look at his life. There seems to be nothing to suggest the kind of disciplined, difficult practice that Colvin and others see as the key to greatness in a given field.

Ruth’s motto, displayed prominently in the museum, was, “I swing big with everything I’ve got. I hit big or miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”
That kind of view does not seem to mesh well with a process that requires performance, feedback, constant adjustments and then more performance.

I mention Ruth not to criticize the idea of deliberate practice, but hopefully to enrich the debate over exactly where achievement begins. Where did HIS achievement come from? Was there actually some sort of deliberate practice going on? And if not, what exactly was going on?


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