“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” — Mark Twain
The mind and body can be taught to do amazing, unimaginable things. While there’s no clear resolution to the age-old nature vs. nurture debate, there’s no denying nurture’s (i.e. behaviorism, personal experience) affect on causing physical and behavioral differences.
In 2012, the Chinese men’s gymnastics team won its’ third team gold in the past four Olympics. In China, training is regulated by the government. Athletes are salaried and receive bonuses for performance. For many, athletics is their only source for income, offering them a way out. If their athletics fail, they and their family fail too. Kids start training at three or four. By their teens, they already have a decade of experience. They are said to be the hardest training athletes anywhere in the world, with an unrelenting appetite for hard work and willingness to endure more pain for longer than their western counterparts.
Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers is the second most prolific three-point shooter of all-time and among the greatest shooting guards to ever play. As a kid, he was unathletic, skinny, and unable to walk. He wore braces on both legs and used a wheelchair or crutches to get around. Wheelchair-bound, doctors told him he may never walk. He was not exactly a born athlete. But once his braces came off, he never looked back. His routine consisted of taking 500 to 700 shots a day, a routine he continued through his 18 year career. He’s renowned for his work ethic, almost always first in the gym and last to leave.
Brazil is the most successful national football team in the history of the FIFA World Cup, with five championships. Brazilians are so good at soccer that you may think it’s genetic. But Brazilians are very poor, and soccer is a sport where only a ball is needed. Kids in Brazil spend the day playing soccer in the streets, often against superior talent. The weather is good, kids play all the time, and the country is soccer-crazed. Brazil is the perfect incubator for wannabe footballers.
William Trubridge is a world champion and double world record holding freediver from New Zealand. With no fins or breathing apparatus, he is the first human ever to break the 100m barrier unassisted. That’s a decent of 30+ stories, one way, on a single breath. When he was 18 months old, his family sold their house and bought a boat to sail across the Atlantic and Pacific. William spent his entire childhood on a boat; he literally grew up in the water. For over a decade, he dove non-stop daily.
Surely nature (i.e. genes) has its place; A 6’4”, 350 pound, whopper is no more suited for horse racing than is a 4’10”, 108 pound jockey for the NFL offensive line. But what if the government didn’t sponsor Chinese athletes? You shipped a Brazilian kid to Canada, where the weather is cold? Or William Trubridge grew up on the High Plains in southeastern Wyoming?
The next time you’re told that you’re too slow, too small, too old, too poor, or too late, don’t underestimate the power of what you can teach your mind and body. Embrace the long shot.
Image: Jose Ramiro on deviantART
Edits: Tony Amoyal