By Lee Burns '87, McCallie Headmaster
If you follow college football, you probably know that today is national signing day, when some senior high school football players sign their national letters-of-intent, committing themselves to play football at their selected colleges in exchange for athletic scholarships.
In recent years, a system has emerged to rate high school football players who are likely to be recruited by colleges. It’s a star system, from 1-5 stars, with five stars being reserved for the most talented, elite and sought-after players. From what I gather, the stars are largely based on talent (real or perceived) and related physical attributes such as size, strength, speed, vertical leap and so forth.
As did many of you, I watched the Super Bowl this Sunday. Of the many things I read or heard relating to the game, what most struck me was one statistic I heard: that the Seahawks and Patriots, combined, had one former five star player on their team. The average star rating of all the Patriots as high school seniors was 2.3, while the average for the Seahawks was 2.4. New England and Seattle are teams full of players that the SEC and many other colleges wouldn’t have wanted as high school seniors.
So what happened to all these talented, future superstars?
Here’s a theory: Talent, or the perception of talent, can lead a person to believe that he or she doesn’t have to work hard or pay attention to details.
A few years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book, “Outliers,” in which he studies the lives of seemingly extraordinary individuals who had achieved great acclaim as musicians, artists, athletes, and business and other leaders. He concluded that what accounted for their success was hard work. More specifically, 10,000 hours of hard work. These individuals weren’t prodigies or geniuses or from privileged backgrounds. They had zero stars. They would not have been recruited. They worked very hard.
But hard work, as important as it is, isn’t enough. You have to work hard at the right things, developing habits and characteristics that apply to all aspects of your lives.
A commitment to getting the little things right often separates average from good from great. And the little things aren’t even little. They are actually big. It’s the small choices each day that build our habits and character.
So it matters whether you clean up the table at lunch and push in your chair, or you leave crumbs and napkins behind.
It matters whether your dorm room or room at home is sloppy or tidy, whether we throw stuff on the floors of locker rooms or keep them organized.
It matters if your meals and snacks are nutritious or junk food.
It matters if you flush toilets and pick up trash or if you don’t.
It matters if you punctuate correctly, if your tie is crooked or straight, if you use the proper lifting form in the weight room.
In our lives, we are either self-disciplined and attentive to detail, or we are not. You can’t pick and choose to be self-disciplined, to turn it on and and off.
A great artist or band, a compelling writer, a basketball team that makes its free throws, a rarely penalized football team -- they have deeply ingrained habits of self-discipline through paying attention to detail.
What matters is not simply the detailed act, but it’s the mindset behind the action that matters even more. Are you committed to excellence, are you committed to one another, are you committed to our school?
If you want to get to the Super Bowl, not just of football but in your chosen passion and field, I’d suggest you forget about talent, double down on hard work, and develop the habit of doing the little things right.