A perfectly executed jack-knife in a pool, an effortless cover drive in cricket, a seemingly innocuous flick that glides through a wall of defenders on a soccer field… who hasn’t marveled at these flashes of genius and inspiration. But what lies behind them?
I first tried a jack-knife when I was 8 or 9. It looks a simple enough dive; you soar straight towards the sky, double up with grace and then plunge like a knife into the pool, nothing but gentle ripples left in the wake of perfection. Two years and over 2,000 dives later I gave up. I just couldn’t get it right. I would either land painfully on my chest or lean forward too much and end up with a back sprain.
I fared better with the cover drive, a shot that I played with some skill by the time I was 12, only to be gutted when I saw a future test batsmen of my age play the same shot. The timing, the balance, the skill, the grace… orders of magnitude superior to anything I ever managed.
What lies behind such flashes and displays of genius? Innate ability? Probably, but coupled with very hard work indeed, at least 10,000 hours of it if Malcolm Gladwell is to be believed.
Carl Lewis was once famously said, “9.9 seconds of fame, and 9 years of torture behind it”. I am reminded of a friend who asked an African-American in New York, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was insightful and amusing in a way, “Practice man, practice”.