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It takes intangibles to be a success in sports

This week's sports question comes from Brianna Przybysz. She writes, "I am 15 and have just decided to take up a few sports. It is rather inspiring watching my fellow teammates make every play. Can hard work, determination, and heart for the game get you as far as talent and years of experience?"

Hard work, determination and heart for the game are called intangibles. Intangibles are things that cannot be measured with a stopwatch or yardstick. Every team in any sport has players that function mostly on intangibles. That does not mean that they function solely on intangibles. Raw talent, things like speed and hand-eye coordination, as well as experience certainly have few substitutes.

One intangible that Brianna did not mention is awareness of the little things that occur in a sport. It does not take years of experience for one to make themselves keenly aware of the fundamentals of a sport. The hard work that comes with diligent practice habits and listening to your coaches can make one recognize how what might seem to be a minor detail actually help you win a game for your team.

An example of what I mean is base running in softball or baseball. Every player won't be possessed with blazing speed. Awareness of where the ball is in play and the skill level of the opponent's throwing arms may allow you to take an extra base when your team needs it the most. Gutting it down the first base line on every ball you hit puts pressure on the defense. They have to be perfect in fielding and throwing or they know you'll be safe.

In basketball, I think of free throw shooting. One can develop into a highly-skilled foul shooter simply by putting in extra practice time. There is no defense, so height and quickness are nonfactors. By making yourself into a dependable free thrower, you may be the one your team looks to to handle the ball at the end of a tight game.

Think of a field goal kicker in football. Seldom are these guys even near the best athlete on the team. Through hours of refining their mechanics, they become game winners more often than fleet footed runners or sure handed wide receivers. Even kickers with super strong legs will tell you that lack of practice only to rely on natural ability can't be tolerated.

Golf is a game of inches on the putting green. Putting is a sports skill that may look easy, but is a venture in mental focus. One can develop this mental focus by hitting balls by the dozens from every imaginable angle and distance on a green. Learning to block out distractions and drill putts into the hole really has little to do with physical talent.

Whether hard work, determination, love of the game and awareness, intangibles all, can get you as far as talent and experience really depends on how far you want to go in sports. As a former high school coach, I can tell you Brianna, few 15-year-olds have enough raw talent to be successful at their sport without those things we have mentioned.

In my mind, having the intangibles will carry you a lot farther in sports than you likely ever dreamed of going. With these things, talent always seems to take care of itself. Thanks for the question Brianna.

Two more issues in July readers. E-mail your questions to

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Web posted on Thursday, July 14, 2005


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