A Philosopher's Blog

Knowing I’m Not the Best

Posted in Philosophy, Sports/Athletics by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2012

Long ago, when I was a young boy, I was afflicted with the dread three Ss. That is, I was Small, Smart and (worst of all) Sensitive. As a good father, my dad endeavored to see to it that I developed the proper virtues of a young man.

As part of this process, I was sent to basketball camp. I was a terrible player with no skill and I had no real interest in the sport. I much preferred reading over shooting hoops. However, I went to the camp and tried to do the best I could within the limits of my abilities.

During one drill, the coach yelled out for the best player to run to the center of the court. Being honest in my assessment of my abilities I did not move. The coach made the other boys do pushups and made me do double the number, since I had failed to consider myself the best. I thought this was very odd since this sort of thing seemed to encourage self-deception and that seemed wrong. I recall quite well getting a lot of abuse for my actions, which made me think about the matter. I did know better than to discuss this with anyone, but I have thought about it over the years.

One the one hand, I do get the point of such self-deception. After all, it could be argued, that a person thinking incorrectly that he is the best would help him do better. That is, thinking he is the best will push him towards being the best.

On the other hand, such self-deception could be problematic. After all, a person who wrongly thinks he is the best and operates on this assumption will not be acting rationally. Of course, there is a clear challenge here, namely being motivated to be the best while still being realistic about one’s abilities.

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14 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on November 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I was Small, Smart and (worst of all) Sensitive.

    During one drill, the coach yelled out for the best player to run to the center of the court. Being honest in my assessment of my abilities I did not move.

    One wonders how the world might be different today if instead Daddy had sent you to Philosophy Camp.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on November 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Looks like the coach confused wanting to be the best with being the best.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      I actually didn’t want to be the best basketball player, either. I suppose that if I had some talent in the game, I might have wanted that. When I started running, my competitiveness wasn’t driven so much as wanting to be the best as wanting to prove everyone wrong.

  3. magus71 said, on November 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Mike,

    I was even smaller than you were. Yet I was good at most sports. But, people didn’t believe I was good at sports because I was small. But I knew I was good. It too them seeing it with their own eyes. Yes, I was the kid picked first in kickball and drafted #1 in Little League. However, my size did hinder me when it came to playing against the very best, at least until some point after high school, where suddenly I began to put on muscle. By that point, I’d lost any chance for something promising like a scholarship. The only sport I did not excel at was basketball. I’m short and I can’t or dribble particularly well. But Bo Jackson sucked at basketball too… It drives me nuts because I’m good at almost all hand-eye stuff, but not basketball. I’ve even won a first=place medal in a fencing tournament

    While self-delusion may seem immoral, it is in fact a nearly universal trait in great athletes. Most of them want to prove the world wrong: They have a chip on their shoulder. As you know, I too have a chip on my shoulder–and I like it that way. When I sucked at everything, I was in fact, afraid. When I got angry, I got better. Anger is a dangerous emotion. But it has its place. Most great athletes hate losing so much they’ll delude themselves into thinking they can beat anyone, if they just work a little harder.

    Doug Flutie should never have been a great football player. But you listen to him talk and you realize why he was. If he were taller would he have been better? Sure.

    I’m arrogant enough to think I can compete. I have an Associate’s degree from a community college, but I wrote a book, because I’m arrogant and self-delusional. Will I be Stephen Hunter? I think I can be actually…

    There can be only one best. But it takes a desire to be the best to even come close. The fact is, you just didn’t like basketball. If you liked it, you would have been better. True though, that people tend to like what they are naturally good at.

    As for me, you want me on your team. Because I’m delusional.

    • biomass2 said, on November 26, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      magus: You say you’re delusional; but you’re also honest. So, you’re in a perfect position to answer a few questions your reply raises . Do you think your height potential is a trait you were born with or a trait you acquired through effort and/desire? Is one person’s desire equal to another’s? Do you believe desire is a trait all people are born with?Are they born with the same degree of desire? Does the environment they are born into affect their desire? How much does the approval or disapproval of mates or family affect the strength of that desire?
      Are you being everything you can be at this moment? Are you being everything you want to be (Stephen Hunter)?
      Just look what this guy achieved with a BA from a state university in Pennsylvania. . .

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Koontz

      • magus71 said, on November 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm

        biomass2, I definitely think my height was determined in the womb, with perhaps a bit of elasticity because of nutrition. I do not believe that all people’s desire is equal, and it very likely has a genetic component. This delves into the mystery of will and first cause of thought (something I consider to be an argument for something called a soul). Some people seem to have an innate energy that drives them beyond simple means. How did Adolph Hitler so what he did? A corporal….Environment definitely affects desire as does family and friends. No question to me.

        No, I am not being everything I can be. I only managed 51 words tonight in the new book I’, writing. I am not taking enough college classes. On the other hand, I’m headed back to Afghanistan soon and feel the right to be lazy. I am not being everything I want to be. Never have been.

        However, on the bright side, Yahoo! published a review of my ebook:

        http://voices.yahoo.com/for-want-knowledge-douglas-moore-novel-review-11894890.html?cat=38

        Dean Koontz is impressive….

        • biomass2 said, on November 27, 2012 at 12:18 am

          magus71: “I am not being everything I want to be. Never have been. ” Can you ever be? Some people become all that they can be. How do they know when they are? Is it important to know? Is the idea that you can be anything you want to be? Can one achieve anything he sets his mind to achieve? Is it a fair self-assessment if one adjusts one’s goals downward to achieve success in his own estimation and in the estimation of others.
          And I’m talking real, big challenges here. For an average guy, if I set my mind to make a cup of coffee and drink it, I can do that. If I have a stroke or have both hands crushed in a workplace accident, my goal becomes more difficult. If I become a quadraplegic, the task becomes somewhat more difficult. And so on.
          No. I’m talking about a four foot tall adult slam dunking a basketball over a 6’7″defender into a regulation pro basketball hoop.
          I would never ask all these questions (here and in my previous reply), if I weren’t trying to get at the “mystery of will”. Just how ‘free’ is free will if the genetic and environmental components cannot be erased? Can those components be conquered? How? In making adaptations to those limitations, does one admit the absence of free will and admit that the will exists, but that it is bound (not free)?

          • magus71 said, on November 27, 2012 at 1:16 pm

            I cannot achieve *anything* I set my mind to, at least not in specific ways. For instance, I will never be able to dunk a basketball. I will never run a 40 yard dash in 4.4 seconds. There’s a million ways to skin a cat, though. In football, there were people who were faster in a straight line, but I was quick and had the best hands of anyone I played with or against on a regular basis. I had an instinct and would come up with sneaky ways to break my opponents down. I think of Pete Maravich, or Larry Bird, guys who couldn’t jump or run, but shot thousands of baskets a day because they had a passion to be great at basketball.

            I have to say, everything I have put my mind to and wanted to be good at, I’ve becoming above average at. Read about Goethe. I’ll never reach that level of course. But if I could achieve 1/10 of what he did, I’d be great. People don’t push themselves hard enough. I see it in the Army all the time. I don’t know how to make people hungry, but I know what it’s like being hungry. I know what it’s like to at the bottom, and that is enough to ensure I’ll never be the person who was at the bottom again, because I think differently.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe

            • biomass2 said, on November 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm

              So, briefly, and to the point, your free will is bound by genetic and environmental reality. You adapt much more effectively than many/most to those realities and thus satisfy your need to achieve success in the eyes of yourself and others. May your ability to do so effectively be attributable ‘also’ to genetic and environmental realities?

              Any room in there for the possibility that those ” [p]eople [who]don’t push themselves hard enough” are affected by genetic and environmental realities? Some who also know what it’s like to be hungry and at the bottom? People who “think differently” than you for their own unique genetic and environmental reasons?

            • WTP said, on November 27, 2012 at 6:21 pm

              If one does not believe in free will, what’s the point of even discussing it?

            • WTP said, on November 27, 2012 at 6:22 pm

              I suppose they just can’t help themselves.

            • biomass2 said, on November 27, 2012 at 6:39 pm

              WTP: “If one does not believe in free will, what’s the point of even discussing it?”

              Since only magus and I were involved in this mini discussion, I’ll have to assume your ‘question is directed at me”.
              As I wrote to magus: “I would never ask all these questions (here and in my previous reply), if I weren’t trying to get at the ‘mystery of will’ (magus’ words). ” If you believe in the concept of free ( unfettered by genetics and environment) will,answer the questions I raised in my 10:16 and 12:18 and 2:31. ^Then^ we can discuss it.
              Show me what “you” believe. And, please, try to ground your responses in the real world.

        • biomass2 said, on November 27, 2012 at 11:39 am

          Substitute: “Is the idea that you can be anything that you want to be valid?” for “Is the idea that you can be anything you want to be?”

  4. magus71 said, on November 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Eye of the Tiger beats philosophy:


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