As a sports fan it's hard not to notice that there are an awful lot of people go into sports other than the one for which they have the most talent.
Usually, people end up doing the sport they got fixated on as kids. If a young boy sits next to his father watching football every Sunday afternoon, he can't help but get the idea that playing football is the most glorious thing a man can do. And so, whatever his genetic destiny, that's the sport he'll pursue.
Or if he had fun playing sandlot baseball as a kid, he might end up doing that.
But as often as not, we're not built for the sports we participate in. Many, many children train for sports which they have absolutely no chance to be great at, no matter how dedicated and tough they are, because they simply don't have the build for it. Coaches like to talk about how it's not so much the size of the dog in the fight as the size of the fight in the dog, but the fact is, you don't see a lot of NFL players who are 5'11" and 150 pounds.
Every child who is moderately tall is told that he should play basketball. So he dutifully goes out for the team, and may or may not be good enough to make his high school varsity. But the average 6' 3" player who actually is good enough for his high school team probably still isn't good enough to make his college team, and certainly isn't good enough to make it to the NBA. But a lot of those kids who are merely decent basketball players could have been great swimmers.
I swam with a college kid the other day who would have been an absolutely outstanding wrestler. This kid is around 5' 5", weighs 160, and is built like a cartoon superhero. But in swimming, he is fighting his height.
There are lots of kids who play football who could have been great at another sport. Most of them simply aren't quite big and strong enough to play for a major college team, let alone in the NFL. But a lot of them are natural athletes who could have been great at rowing, lacrosse, wrestling, track, or any number of other sports.
Part of the problem is that so many kids want to be great at the glory sports: football and basketball. These are the prestige sports at most high schools. When you think BMOC, you tend to think of the star quarterback. And, the fact is, the head cheerleader is more likely to go for the star quarterback than she is for the star runner on the boys' cross country team. But who has more status, a second string lineman or a star runner? And more importantly, whose athletic skills will better help him get into college?
The East Germans are rightly condemned for the way they took children away from their parents and put them in sports schools, then fed them steroids. But they had one thing right: they would test the children at age eight or ten and then steer them toward the sport for which they had the most talent.
Parents should do the same (subtly). If your spindly little boy shows an aptitude for distance running, but all his friends play football, take him to a big time track meet so he can see all the people cheering for the guy who wins the mile. Turn on the TV when a track meet is on. Buy him a copy of "The Jim Ryun Story."
If a child ends up in a sport at which he's not great, it's certainly not a tragedy. He can still become fit, make friends, and enjoy himself. But if he has a choice between being good at something or being great at something else, why not try for the latter?