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Does Potential Really Matter?

potential player coach potential success qualities

Potential is used to describe so many different things in softball – from teams to seasons to players, even to parents. But what does “potential” really mean?

Find out if it is something that just happens or if there is anything that we can do to help foster it, block it or even create it.

Whenever something is given the “potential” title it seems to add a lot of extra pressure to there being a successful outcome. Yet, far too often ,that outcome never comes to pass. How come? Why could a player or a team have potential and then never do anything with it?

Well the answer comes in the actual word. Webster’s Dictionary defines potential this way:

existing in possibility : capable of development into actuality (as in – potential benefits)

We see words like possible, capable, development – all of these are words that describe the future. They describe things that might take place but that haven’t yet and to me that is the real definition of potential and the one I use whenever I am asked about it. To me, potential is: something that hasn’t happened yet.

For a player to have potential it really means that she’s not good right now, or else we would just say she’s good, we wouldn’t have to talk about her future good in terms of her potential. I know it sounds a bit harsh but if you don’t attach the word to any specific person then the definition makes sense.

Whenever we start talking about a player’s potential it does a few things:

  1. Potential creates expectations based on something happening in the future.
  2. Potential creates pressure for future performance to start happening now.
  3. Potential assumes a level of commitment that is based on the future talent and not so much on the specific player’s love of the sport or skill.

The problem with all 3 of these is that they are created by someone other than the person with the potential, and besides, potential isn’t very important anyway.

In my opinion (and you might think I’m nuts and choose to disagree) I think that potential is useless in determining whether someone will becoming good at something. A long time ago I was told (by someone who at the time was very respected in athletics) that I would never amount to anything in the sport of softball. That’s not proven to be the case, and that statement about my potential, or lack thereof, didn’t come true. Not because I am unique in any way, but because I believe that someone’s ability to do something in the future is usually based on what they want for themselves, not what others believe of them.

How many times have you seen a 12-year old who looks athletic, strong and talented, only to see that same player at 18 has either quit the sport or is just average? It happens all the time. But why, why can someone be so talented at a young age like 12, only to end up very average later on?

The answer lies in the following:

Potential just means you haven’t done it yet, and is usually something that’s determined at a young age and is based on physical attributes like size, strength, physical development and coordination.

Success means you have done it and is based on qualities like love of the sport, work ethic, determination, competitiveness, and desire. These Qualities for Success are not physical in nature but instead, are mental components. It’s these things that will determine how much a player practices and how hard they work to improve, as well as how competitive they are.

Qualities for Success are what we should really be focusing on when looking at young kids. Internal factors like how much a player likes the sport and is willing to practice will determine far more about a player’s future for success than if they are tall or strong. How hard they work, how determined they are to improve, or how fiercely they fight to win are all things that help determine a person’s ability to succeed more than something as vague as potential.

Why have I been able to make a career out of softball when someone told me there was no way I would? It wasn’t because I was the tallest player, the fastest pitcher or the best – because I wasn’t. But I did work extremely hard to get better as a pitcher, I worked hard as a coach to learn everything I could, and as an administrator I worked harder and longer than most people in my position.

If you want someone to be successful, then instead of worrying about a player’s “potential,” pay closer attention to their qualities for success. If they don’t naturally have them, then try to develop the desire, work ethic and competitiveness in your players – which will serve them well in all their future endeavors.

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