It’s easy to peg the best student-athletes in middle school and high school, right?
Even an untrained eye can see the student-athletes who run faster, jump higher and are more athletic than the others.
Every school year, high school and college kids try out for volleyball, football and basketball teams. Some make it, others don’t. Even those who make the team may not see as much playing time for one coach as they would for another.
It’s not easy in a brief period of tryouts for coaches to always get it right. Coaches try to select the student-athletes whom they believe will give the team the best chance of success. But coaches aren’t perfect. They are far more objective than parents, but coaches have certain biases that work in favor of some student-athletes and against others.
In football, a talented wide receiver may have a limited opportunity to showcase his talent if the team runs the ball 90 percent of the time.
Ideally, we wouldn’t label young, developing athletes. For one thing, not everyone physically develops at the same rate. For another, there’s no surefire way of measuring the heart, desire and instincts of a young athlete.
Unless you’re a Chiefs fan, you probably don’t remember the top pick in the NFL draft this year: Eric Fisher, an offensive lineman from Central Michigan University.
Fisher attended Central Michigan because the state’s so-called big-time programs, Michigan and Michigan State, didn’t want him.
When he graduated from high school, ratings services said he was no good. Apparently he didn’t listen.
Ratings services and coaches who evaluate talent aren’t perfect. While many athletes who are projected to be the best are successful in college, almost as many are busts, got in trouble with the law or didn’t start for their own college.
Gregg Easterbrook writes: “The big message is that the unknown Everyman can still come out on top. Don’t let anyone else define you—all that matters is how you define yourself. The Experts said Eric Fisher wasn’t good. How delightful that The Experts can once again be proved wrong!”
Eric Fisher was hardly the only unheralded young athlete to become successful.
Baseball catcher Mike Piazza wasn’t a prime candidate to become an All-Star. He was considered a lousy first baseman for Miami-Dade Community College. As a favor to his dad, Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda picked him in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. In other words, 1,390 players were drafted before him. A position change and 427 homers later and Piazza is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Tom Brady was hardly in demand after playing college football. He was the 199th player taken in the 2000 NFL draft. Suffice it to say, he’s had a fair amount of success in winning three out of the five Super Bowls he has played.
Kurt Warner’s story is even more bizarre. In 1994, no one, except for maybe his family, knew who he was. He was undrafted and played in the Arena Football League. The Rams ultimately took a shot on him and he won a Super Bowl; he played in another one for the Cardinals.
Equally amazing is the story of Rolland “Bay” Lawrence from Tabor College. No one had much interest in this college football player who had talent, but lacked size by NFL standards.
Lawrence was given a tryout and did well enough to make the Atlanta Falcons. Not only did he make the team but he distinguished himself as an All-Pro defensive back. He played for the Falcons from 1973-1980, and according to Wikipedia, still holds the Falcons record for most career interceptions (39).
As the late coach Jim Valvano said: “Never give up! Failure and rejection are only the first step to succeeding.”
Or as former UCLA coach John Wooden said: “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”