And I’ve found that first tries are almost always terrible. I’m not alone in that conclusion. Ernest Hemingway (I hope you’ll forgive me for venturing into the arena of writing for this quote, it’s the field on which I throw most of my soccer-style pick sixes), for one, said “The first draft of anything is shit.”
That’s why keeping at it is so important. The best way to get past the shit of a first draft, a first heart-breaking rival game loss, a first whatever, is to keep trying.
And so keeping at it should be the program for rookies. It should be the first commandment in the rookie handbook, the inspirational poster in the rookie gym, and the words pasted on the ceiling above a rookie’s bed.
It’s a frustrating program, though, isn’t it? If you’re like me, every time you walk on the field seems like the promising preamble to you being carried off on your teammates’ shoulders as crowds chant your name.
And so falling short of greatness — especially far enough that “mediocrity” seems more fit — eats at your identity.
Inside, you’re already great. From the outside, though, you’re a promising player who made some amazing plays (that stiff arm was incredible) and then lacked poise at a crucial time.
Another part of what makes “keep at it” a frustrating injunction to hear is that it’s a long-term plan.
Even in sports, where the relative importance (and inevitability) of physical decline with age places a time cap on potential development, the age of peak performance can be surprisingly late. It’s 29 for pitchers and hitters in baseball, one study found. Humans need time to get good.
Really though, instead of wondering why it takes so long to develop, or why the process hurts so much, we should be marveling at the fact that we develop so well.
The human ability to master novel tasks is stunning. The incredibly complex task of driving a car, for instance, goes from difficult to boring with just a few hundred hours experience for most people.
This ability to learn, writ-large, means that what we keep at is incredibly important. Just as practice can make us into powerful forces for the joy and benefit of others, perseverance in callousness, anger or despair can make us toxic. We can become skilled at being good, but we can also get good at being bad.
From what I can tell, Chazz, you have been dedicating yourself to worthy goals: athletic prowess, academic discipline and leadership. I hope you’re successful in persevering after all those, and in beating Duke next time. Keep at it.