The long read: The 10,000-hour rule says intense, dedicated practice makes perfect at that one thing. But what if breadth actually serves us better than depth?
Lets start with a couple of stories from the world of sports. This first one, you probably know The boys father could tell something was different. At seven months, he gave his son a putter to fool around with, and the boy dragged it everywhere he went in his little circular baby walker. At 10 months, he climbed down from his high chair, trundled over to a golf club that had been cut down to size for him, and imitated the swing he had been watching in the garage. Because the father couldnt yet talk with his son, he drew pictures to show the boy how to place his hands on the club.
At two, he went on US television and used a club that was tall enough to reach his shoulder to drive a ball past an admiring Bob Hope. That same year, he entered his first tournament, and won the 10-and-under division. There was no time to waste. By three, the boy was learning how to play out of a sandtrap, and his father was mapping out his destiny. He knew his son had been chosen for this, and that it was his duty to guide him. He started prepping his three-year-old to handle the inevitable media attention that would come. He quizzed the boy, playing the role of reporter, teaching him how to give curt answers, never to offer more than precisely what was asked.
When the boy was four, his father could drop him off at a golf course at nine in the morning and pick him up eight hours later, sometimes with the money he had won from those foolish enough to doubt him.
At eight, the son beat his father for the first time. The father didnt mind, because he was convinced that his boy was singularly talented, and that he was uniquely equipped to help him. He had been an outstanding athlete himself, and against enormous odds. He played baseball in college when he was the only black player in the entire conference. He understood people, and discipline; a sociology major, he served in Vietnam as a member of the armys elite Green Berets, and later taught psychological warfare to future officers. He knew he hadnt done his best with three kids from a previous marriage, but now he could see that he had been given a second chance to do the right thing with number four. And it was all going according to plan.
The boy was already famous by the time he reached Stanford University, and soon his father opened up about his importance. His son would have a larger impact than Nelson Mandela, than Gandhi, than Buddha, he insisted. He has a larger forum than any of them, he said. Hes the bridge between the east and the west. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I dont know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One.
This second story you also probably know. This boys mother was a coach, but she never coached him. He would kick a ball around with her when he learned to walk. As a child, he played squash with his father on Sundays. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and badminton over his neighbours fence, and soccer at school.
His parents had no particular athletic aspirations for him. They encouraged him to try a wide array of sports. He didnt much mind what sport he was playing, so long as it included a ball. Though his mother taught tennis, she decided against working with him. He would have just upset me anyway, she said. He tried out every strange stroke and certainly never returned a ball normally. That is simply no fun for a mother. Rather than pushy, his parents were, if anything, pully, a Sports Illustrated writer would later observe. Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis, and if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously.