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Beating the Odds

The Nine Most Important Words in Leadership

When you look at what Albert Pujols has accomplished in the big leagues — things no player has ever done — you wonder how teams could have passed over him on draft day.

Yet it happened. Through 12 rounds of the 1999 draft, every single franchise looked at Pujols and decided there was someone better to pick. It wasn’t until the 13th round when the St. Louis Cardinals finally called his name. Now, just 12 years later, Pujols has already put up enough stats to land him in the Hall of Fame.

Pujols’ case just underlines the nine most important words in coaching (and in life): Initial ability and final ability are not closely related. Put those words in your coaching toolbox. The player, the employee, the person, the student you see today is not the same one you will see five years from now.

This article by Jeff Gordon discusses the extreme difficulty of scouting and evaluating athletic prospects. Some players, like Pujols, develop beautifully. Others become less than the sum of their parts.

Why? What accounts for the change between initial ability and final ability? Practice. The quality and quantity of your practice determines how much or how little you will improve. Effective practice — deliberate practice — must be well-designed, with accurate and immediate feedback and lots of meaningful repetitions. It’s a difficult pracess. Some people are willing to go through it. Some are not.

This is not just theory. It’s real-world stuff, as Pujols shows. You never know who will develop. You may think you do. but you don’t. So if you can possibly help it, never cut anyone from your team.

Last night I heard a veteran coach make a judgement on a young athlete. “She can’t play,” the coach said. This coach was talking about a fourth-grader!

It reminds me of an evaluation made more than a century ago. It went like this: “I’m sorry, Mr. Einstein, but your son will never amount to anything.”

Initial ability and final ability are not closely related!

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Mike Tully speaks to sports, business and educational groups. He also works with coaches, athletes and teams to make their practice time more productive and efficient. He and Gary Pritchard are co-authors of “Ten Things Great Coaches Know.” To see Coach Tully and Coach Pritchard discuss “Seven Ways to Prepare for Adversity,” go here.


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