Brains vs. Brawn

You know the person, the battering ram in the school rugby team, the beanpole on the basketball court, the lightning quick winger in football, the kid whose physical attributes covered up for a lack of talent? Most of these people get found out when adolescence comes to an end and everyone else has caught up with them and they can no longer barge through, tower over or race past the little kid. Some of them slip through the net though, some of them maintain their physical edge and have just enough talent to remain successful, maybe even turn professional.

I myself was the beanpole on the basketball court. A growth spurt between middle school and secondary school resulted in a distinct height advantage when it came to trials for the year 8 basketball team. After the first year though I became less and less effective but I trained hard and worked on my passing and shooting enough to hold down a place for the four years until 6th form, relying on the more talented ball handlers around me to get by.

Blake Griffin

6' 10" Griffin is quite a physical specimen. Photo: Keith Allison.

The idea for this blog came from listening to an NBA pundit commenting on Blake Griffin, the 6 ft 10 in record-breaking rookie, that he couldn’t wait for Griffin to become a basketball player as well as an athlete. The first rookie to be named in the All Star team since Tim Duncan in 1998, winning all six Rookie of The Month awards available in the Western Conference and the first rookie since 2000 to average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, Griffin has had a stellar opening season in the NBA with a struggling LA Clippers side.

Is he actually a good basketball player though? Well he can definitely dunk, winning the Slam Dunk Contest during the All Star Weekend showed that, but is that all he can do? Like many power forwards he has a poor shooting percentage from the free throw line, his mid range jump shot needs work and if the Clippers want to build a successful team around him he must show more variety in the paint, doing more than just bullying opponents with his size. He shares the ball well though, averaging 3.8 assists per game, and showed signs of maturing as the season went on.

With all his success so far though, does he really need to improve? He already has enough physical presence to be an All Star for years to come, better judges than me though have deemed that he could be so much more. Were he to develop and mature as he seems capable of, he could become one of the all time greats and still be effective when his body starts to fail him in his later years.

Griffin has made it to the NBA and been very successful using his physical advantage but has the capability to prolong his career with genuine talent, others aren’t quite so lucky. Theo Walcott is still striving to convince many that he is anything more than a sprinter who can kick a ball, the same can be said for Aaron Lennon. OK I’ll admit that this is a rather black and white view of their footballing prowess but there is little doubt that were they not blessed with such electric pace they wouldn’t be where they are today.

Darren Fletcher warms up.

Darren Fletcher may not be the most skilful of footballers but that hasn't stopped him. Photo: Andrea Sartorati

Cardiovascular endurance can also elevate one’s performance levels above those around them, not because they are more skilled but because they simply can go for longer. Would Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung be continually trusted by Sir Alex Ferguson to play in Manchester United’s most important games if they could not run for days on end? They certainly aren’t the most naturally skilful players at Sir Alex’s disposal yet they can be relied upon to close people down and track back to make a saving tackle when perhaps some so-called ‘flair players’ couldn’t be.

The list of sport stars ‘making the most of what god gave them’ is endless; would the Williams sisters be so good at tennis if they couldn’t hit the ball harder than anyone else? Would Rafael Nadal be the world no. 1 if he couldn’t chase every ball down and seemingly not tire? Would Michael Phelps be the all-conquering swimmer he is without his disproportionately large wingspan and size 14 feet? Would Usain Bolt be so fast if he wasn’t 6′ 5″?

Lionel Messi playing for Barcelona.

Messi is successful despite his diminutive stature. Photo: Prettyfriendship.

More importantly though, are all these questions rather pointless? Is it the same as asking, what if Lionel Messi wasn’t so skilful? Or what if Phil Taylor didn’t practice darts so much? Isn’t sporting competition all about celebrating the variations in people’s abilities? Team sports would be incredibly tedious if everyone shared the same qualities. And where would athletics be without the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, differences between us all?

It may seem unfair that the big kid always gets picked ahead of you at school and that skilled individuals may be overlooked for those with more obvious physical advantages. But those people will get found out eventually, or they’ll have had to work incredibly hard to forge a path for themselves where less determined people may have failed. The great thing about sport is that there is a place for almost anyone, hard work can get you a long way and this is something that should be celebrated and encouraged. After all, we can’t all be Roger Federer!

Photo credits:

Blake Griffin: Keith Allison;  Darren Fletcher: Andrea Sartorati;  Lionel Messi: Prettyfriendship

3 thoughts on “Brains vs. Brawn

  1. I am pleased you got your penultimate paragraph in there! As it is exactly my view, teams need diversity they need different skills and qualities this is part of group dynamics and becoming successful. Yes the players might have less time in the limelight, but they can still go on to be good players. I remember the early days of Michael Owen, it took teams long enough to cotton on to his skills and the threat of the long ball, back in 1998. This is the beauty of sport and more importantly keeps people watching! I had never been interested in watching Stoke, until Rory Delap hit the news with the ability of his long throws in to baffle defenders. Unique skills/qualities are always going to be entertaining and for many of us that is what we watch sport for – entertainment!

  2. I completely agree, especially in team sports. American football is often quoted as the ultimate team game as there is a place for all body shapes and sizes. It is this inclusiveness that attracts millions of spectators season after season.

    As you say, when Owen burst onto the scene his pace was electric and it took teams a season or two to work out how to combat his pace and even then it took the best organised defences in the world to stop him (that and his hamstrings). The mismatches in body types and skill levels is what creates the entertainment you speak of and hence why so many people are gripped by sporting competition the world over.

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