As sporting competition tends to induce ego-driven behavior, I assume I was not the only high-school athlete to bristle when a new kid on the team — one who had never played the sport before — was suddenly outperforming me and taking my glory.

Bruised and desperate, I commonly used the “natural athlete” defense. They were, and I was not, and that’s a life lesson. Several of my teammates were similarly “born with it,” whereas I treaded water. Sweaty and determined, proud even, but never notably improving my skills or athleticism.

Maturity softened the blow, and I accepted that a man like me — a body like mine — simply wasn’t meant to compete at a higher level. I stopped playing baseball, didn’t make my Division III college tennis team, and that was okay.

I simply wasn’t “talented.” Right?


But strangely enough, it turns out that neither were they.

Athletes acquiring new skills at different speeds, and peaking at different levels of competence, is the rule. And genetically-coded capacity — otherwise known as “talent” — is generally the accepted cause. This is likely because the conventional wisdom of the “talent” argument goes a ways toward soothing the emotions of the less-accomplished teammate.

Only problem is, the conventional wisdom is dead wrong. The “talent” fallacy is so obviously false that it should have been dumped long ago, a failed theory best left for the trash man along with a Smith machine and the old food pyramid. Off to the dump where it can’t hurt you any longer. The Human Genome Project has yet to discover the “Sampras” gene, and you shouldn’t expect an RNA-modifying, grass-court specialist “Wimbletrex” pill in your lifetimes.

That new kid who just picked up a racquet and stole my starting spot? He got better — faster — because he practiced better. And practicing well is an acquired behavior — not an innate ability.

Which is good news for all of us.