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Beating the Odds

High School Popularity

With Graduation Day coming, millions of kids will soon be taking the big step into high school.

It’s an experience they will remember for the rest of their life, good or bad. Some of these kids will be popular; some will be geeks.

In a book titled “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” author Alexandra Robbins offers hope for those who don’t find themselves in the right clique.

“Nonconformity is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood,” Robbins recently told an interviewer. “If you’re different in school, that makes you an outsider. If you’re different as an adult, that makes you interesting, fun and often successful.”

Whether or not you accept Robbins’ reasoning, there’s one thing for sure, namely, sometimes the least likely people wind up being successful.

This fact in itself should remind us of the nine most important words in coaching: Initial ability and final ability are not closely related.

We never know who will make it and who won’t. It isn’t the person voted “Most Likely To Succeed.” Not often, anyway.

We should stop being surprised that so many NBA draft picks turn out to be busts, or that so many NFL draft picks seem to rise from the lower rounds to stardom. This happens all the time!

What we should be doing instead is trying to find better ways to evaluate candidates. Recently I spoke to some people who are interviewing young people for internships. So far, all the aspirants have been impressive. This is no surprise; according to the Tryout Paradox, few people are more highly motivated than during an interview.

Furthermore, to follow Robbins’ thesis, people who score well in tryouts and interviews may very well be using their skill at conformity — the very skill that will not serve them well.

In coaching, I interact with student-athletes all the time. I even see them in classroom situations. I wonder which ones will blossom brilliantly and which ones will fail to live up to their promise.

And yet we must make predictions. We must decide who will make the team, which college applicants should be accepted, which job candidates should be hired.

It is a wonderful, frustrating job, predicting.

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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 “Attitude,” click here.


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