Greatness: Trained or Innate? - 2015

"He was just born to do it... She was made for that reason... That is their calling... That right there is greatness defined."  Let's go for a ride:  Is greatness something that can be trained and coached or is it something that is inevitable when we take our first breath?  Pause and think about your answer to this; then by the time you finish reading, see if your answer is the same.  There is not always a consensus on who exemplifies greatness, who is approaching it, and who is not even in the ballpark.  If you come across a name that you feel may be on the latter end of those three then feel free to fill in a name of your own and run the same test.  

Check out an article by Jillian Anderson which goes into greater depth:

I've encountered a handful of people in and outside of the volleyball world that exemplify greatness to me.  When I observe them and their path, there is a consistent attribute that sticks out.  I remember reading a Volleyball Magazine article written by a mentor and friend of mine named Dain Blanton.  He discussed, essentially, how he and his partner Eric were going to approach the next season after winning a Gold Medal in beach volleyball at the Syndey Olympics in 2000.  He clearly stated that his intention was to become better.  He thought that he had room to improve his setting and the shape that his body was in.  He mentioned how Tiger Woods, arguably the best golfer of all time, broke down his golf swing and revamped the entire process after already being on top of the game.  Dain's admiration for this influenced him toward doing the same with his game in volleyball; all after being awarded a medal that proves one to be the best in the world at their craft.  What it did for him was allow him to achieve another Olympics four years later.  (Click for article)

I spent a few weeks the summer of 2014 filling in with the USA Men's National Team before some of the World League athletes returned from their overseas contracts.  It reconfirmed how much can be learned in a short month, a few days, even a short few hours.  Reid Priddy won a Gold Medal for indoor volleyball in 2008.  I've invited in and overheard conversations with the statement, "Do you see that?  How high he jumps, how quick he is, how hard he hits... he was just born to do that."  It made me wonder if that ability to be at the top of his craft was really innate.  Fortunately, I had real-time interactions to develop my own opinion.  He was my ball control partner during my first day back in the gym.  I remember expecting him to crush swings and dig my best heat right back on my head.  I will never forget how mechanically sound that he went through that warm up.  Inching closer and closer to his full swing with each crack at the ball, improving his touch on the ball with his platform, his footwork.  This man had already tasted his success, peaking in 2008.  Yet, every morning he would still arrived to a 9 am practice at 8:40 and pass dozens of balls to prepare.  Every afternoon he would stay extra time in the weight room and master his technique, stretch, and rehab.  The question of why he was beyond successful and placed himself in the conversation of great was gone for me.

Not long after I would come to Anaheim three mornings a week, where the National Team practices, and rep with Dustin Watten.  Five days a week he had upwards of five hours straight that he would have team training with the USA team.  It never stopped him from coming in an hour early with me and getting better.  He would pass, he would set, he would communicate, he would tell stories, whatever he could do to learn and improve that day he was going to do.  Each day, he is approaching greatness.  Is it something that he is born to do or something that is trained along his life journey?  Let's go deeper.

I watched a Will Smith interview with his family on Oprah.  When Oprah asked how he was able to maintain a household that did not believe in punishment with fluidity, he stated that, "My kids are raised to remember that everything that they do must be contributing to the progression of society in some way.  Whatever decisions they make must reflect that contribution."  Should Jaden and Willow Smith become great, does that mean that greatness is trained?  Michael Jordan won six NBA Championships and countless other awards.  He literally created an era where professional athletes have come back and said that they wish that their prime was in a time outside of MJ's; all so that they could have a chance to win.  (Read that sentence one more time).  In his 2013 book Eleven Rings, Phil Jackson discussed Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  Jackson said that Kobe wants to win at basketball, relentlessly.  However, competition in other things sometimes disinterested Kobe.  Jackson said that Michael wanted to win at everything, from the basketball court, to the driving range, to the undeclared race to the practice arena with his teammates.  Kobe and Jordan both show some of that same commitment that I discussed with Priddy.  Surely those two are in the conversation for greatness in their sport.  Though the question remains, is it trained or innate?

It invites in another sidebar of discussions.  Does one have to be over-confident to be great?  Must one display humility to be great?  Must one have a good support system to be great?  Does what they eat and do outside of their craft have an affect on their greatness determination?  There was a young man in the youth volleyball world that was head and shoulders above his competition.  He was achieving things that guys ten years older were achieving and he was making guys that were three years older appear as if they were three years younger.  Even at his youth level, he came up in the conversation of highest level greatness for his future.  It prompted me to analyze what would go into that potential chance.  There were questions of his attitude, his maturity, his physical growth, but for me that only confirmed the potential even more.  Did Michael Jordan never passionately scream in an opponent's face?  Have Marshawn Lynch's words, or lack there of, to the media taken him out of the box of potential greatness?  Did Beyonce never state that she is the greatest in the business and no one can reach the level of Queen B?  How about Donald Trump, being internationally known as the best at what he does, has he not been cited for a questionable attitude once or twice?  With some exception of greatness that has flown under the radar, what my experience tells me is that the more and more our actions are scrutinized, the closer we are to reaching greatness.  Society does not demonstrate the same level of care to analyze the words of those that are not rapidly approaching greatness. 

The question remains, are those trained through experience or something that is inevitable from birth?  A piece that I personally believe in is the concept of respect over idolizing.  I believe that a person has to be able to see it to achieve it.  It is supportable and almost necessary to have people you look up to in your craft.  There were be limited ways to learn otherwise.  We rarely invent the wheel in our crafts, we often take an old concept and improve upon it.  However, idolizing with a mouth wide-open can be dangerous.  If Michael Jordan could not see himself playing varsity, going onto UNC, then the NBA, he may have never made it passed that junior varsity team at Lainey.  If Mark Zuckerberg did not see the potential to own the best media invention of his time then it was unlikely to happen.  If I am a young volleyball player across the net from a guy like Bruninho Rezende, it is acceptable to give him the respect he deserves as he has set himself apart from his peers and taken a slot among the best setters in the world.  Yet, for that young player to stare at his actions with no personal response or preparation is to take away the opportunity to ever reach him or surpass him.  I encourage a coach to watch and enjoy the way that Mike Krzyzewski coaches.  Yet, if they would like to achieve greatness then they must see the potential to compete with him and his teams, to beat him and his teams. Drake surrounded himself with the number one artist in hip-hop.  It was not with the intention to tag along for the ride.  He respected, he learned, he trained, and he is now the number one artist on the charts month after month.  Was it trained or was that innate?

A common misconception is that there is only one way to become great.  There are multiple ways.  Let me use the NBA for example.  You can be the guy steals a lot of balls and win defensive player of the year, or you can be the guy that blocks a lot of shots.  You can be a terrific passer, an admired vocal leader, and score when the opportunity presents itself to win an MVP like Steve Nash.  You can also be a player that drops 30-40 a game and wins multiple scoring titles like Kevin Durant, this can also win you an MVP.  I encounter a lot of people trying to fit someone else's mold or duplicate another person.  Greatness won't find us that way. To flirt with greatness we must first find ourselves and then find our path.

You can be great at multiple things, so don't fear specialization.  Josh Waitzkin mastered chess and martial arts.  Jamie Foxx chose to sing and act; he isn't hurting financially.  Several people master their craft and care for their spouse and kinds.  Hell, Shaq almost mastered basketball and rapping...  What is most important to observe is that others do not have to fail for you to thrive.  Healthy competition is what inspires progress.  The consistent attribute that I mentioned earlier is that all of these people will not shy away from making a decision, making the decision.  Making the decision to be great.  It takes some variables.  For some crafts you must be born with the physical gifts to have a shot at greatness.  For some crafts you have to have a good support system on the way up.  Though, we can often improve our physical gifts if they are lacking and we can be our own support system if we don't feel wealthy in that department.  What is consistent is that the decision must be made.

Check out an article by Jillian Anderson which goes into greater depth:

Greatness is a combination of innate and trained.  We must understand what we are good at and what craft is designed for our individual gifts.  Once we have that figured that passion then we make the decision how far we will drive it and what we will do to reach it.  So many of us think that greatness is handed and that it is unattainable for us.  We must just understand that there will be struggle.  Tiger Woods struggles to achieve what he achieves, Kobe Bryant struggles, there is a struggle for Bill Gates and Donald Trump, we just may not have the key to look through the door and see.  I enjoyed the Michael Jordan statement when he apologized to anyone that who he lead to believe that his success was easy.  (Click for video).  I will leave you with this question: What decision will you make today?

- Lion

Chris P Austin