What a GIFTED player? 

What a bunch of bunk! 

Please allow me to rant just a bit, and I will follow it with a commentary on one of life’s most important principles.

In the music industry, writers and reporters (who usually have no idea), are often fond of referring to some musicians as “over-night sensations.” In sport, they say, “she’s a natural”, or “he was born with the gift to play”. People outside of sport use the phrase: “You can’t teach that… that’s natural talent.”

Give me a break!

The band is “an over-night sensation” after playing bars and village venues for 15 years. The player became “naturally talented” after putting his or her 10,000 hours of practice in. Many fans only see the current outcome, but athletes understand the long process required for excellence.

I was recently re-reading an article by Earl McRae of Sun Media about a friend of mine, Mike Bossy. Mike and I played against each other in the National Hockey League (NHL) during the years that the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cups. In his interview, Earl McRae asked Mike why players in today’s game miss the net so much. Mike’s response was very thought provoking:

“When I played [in the NHL], the thing I hated most was missing the net. My mindset was always to hit the net, the puck either going in or generating a rebound. Instinctively, I also always knew where the net was and where and how to position myself. The rapidity of shooting, the element of surprise, was something I believed was very important. 

One thing I see today is players looking too much for the perfect shot. The front of the net is so loaded now that it’s hard sometimes to find a spot to shoot at so — if they do shoot — they’re trying to pick the corners, and wind up missing the net.”

The first key to success is found in the second sentence Mike Bossy uttered in that interview: “My mindset was always to hit the net.” Everything starts with our mindset.

Secondly, partly in response to my earlier rant, I would like to offer an insight that you will never get from reporters or writers… I remember being in the arena in Uniondale, NY, watching Mike Bossy after practice, after everyone else had left the ice to shower. I watched Bossy pile hundreds of pucks 20 feet out in front of an empty net. Then, with his head down, Mike focussed on the puck and shot hundreds of pucks eight inches high right at the middle of the net. With a lightning quick release, he never missed the net because he didn’t try to pick the corners. He always hit the net because his quick release was intended to score 5-hole or bounce off the goalie’s pads for a second-shot rebound.

Thanks to Mike for proving my point and giving us the two prime keys to success in life, simultaneously.

#1- Choose a successful MINDSET
#2- Choose and daily practice a successful FOCUS

Mike focused his shots mid-net because that gave him the best return. Wayne Gretzky said, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I would add, “You miss 100% of the shots that don’t hit the net.”

While other players were focused on shooting pucks towards the posts, hoping to bounce it off the post and in, Mike counted on increasing his odds by not making the fancy “hope” shots. Mike focused all of his practice time honing one skill – hitting the net. And guess what? It worked. Mike Bossy is the only NHL player to have scored 50 goals or more in nine consecutive seasons. And he played just ten seasons.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, allow me to finish my rant.

Recent science tells us that “Gifted Athletes” or “Over-night Successes” have all spent 10,000 hours or more practicing their skills. I am often asked whether leaders are born or built? My answer is always, BOTH! Some are born with personality, strengths or skills that give them a little head start, but I know of no great leader who hasn’t put in the practice time to learn his or her trade.

Let me say it one more time: Natural talent – what a bunch of bunk!

We are all born with skills and strengths… it’s what we choose to focus on and practice that differentiates us from the rest of the naturally-talented pack.


About The Author

Ryan Walter played more than 1000 games over 15 NHL seasons. Drafted second overall by the Washington Capitals (where he became the NHL’s youngest captain), Ryan won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens before finishing his playing career as a Vancouver Canuck...CONTINUE.

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