Hustle Beats Talent Unless Talent Hustles

One of the things I love about Washington Nationals outfielder  Bryce Harper is his hustle. Like Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Craig Biggio, and other great ball players from the past, Harper plays the game at 100 miles an hour, recognizing that his talent and the privilege of wearing a big league uniform carries certain responsibilities.

I’m not a professional coach and I don’t even play one on t.v. but I have coached various baseball teams and given private lessons off and on for about 10 years. When I talk to kids about the game at the beginning of the season, Harper is exactly the kind of player I talk about not, I tell them, because he’s talented with gifts most of us dream about, but because he recognizes that hustle beats talent unless talent hustles.

The goal, I tell the kids I coach, is to play the game to the best of your ability. But, and I try hard to avoid looking at that one kid who can’t (as my dad used to say) hit his butt with both hands, some of us aren’t very good. We can get better if we work hard, but that takes practice and time. And more practice. And more time. For some of you, I do look at them now, you won’t get better until next year. Or the year after. And some of you might want to start practicing the trumpet. Or the oboe. Or your writing. Or walking and chewing gum at the same time. (I don’t really say that last one but it’s tempting.)

But the one thing that doesn’t take time or practice is hustle. Every kid, every coach, every person can work hard on every pitch and we can always give 100%. You might strike out or make an error but I will never get mad if you are trying as hard as you can.

But you have to remember that you play like you practice. Life isn’t filled with important at bats and crucial pitches every day but the people who succeed are the ones who prepare and practice for that moment when things matter the most.  They put themselves in a position to succeed.

This, I say in my wisest voice, is a lesson you can take with you anywhere. You might not be a math whiz or have a facility with language, but nothing stops you from working hard and getting better. You might not ever be Einstein of Joan Didion, but you can avoid being Lloyd Christmas or Frank Drebin (they completely miss the references of course).

We have been lucky in our house that both our sons have taken this speech to heart. It’s possible, of course, that their primary goal is to simply avoid hearing me drone on and on and they realize hustling beats dad’s lecture but who cares, right? As a parent, I don’t usually care why they do something right, I’m just happy to take credit for it.

It’s also true that I stopped coaching my son about two years ago. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still there with the free advice and (despite what he might think) I still know more about baseball than him, but I also recognize that part of growing as an athlete is learning how to be coachable.

Good athletes, I tell him, have to be confident enough to know they will succeed but humble enough to listen to coaches teach them how to play.

Teenagers, though (or at least my teenage sons), find it hard to be humble enough to listen to dad. So I’ve pawned him off on someone else.

Either way, our boys have a great work ethic (unless it involves household chores) and I’ve never had to remind them to work hard in practice.

I also know, from my years working with 8-16 year old baseball players that most of the kids stopped listening to my opening practice speech sometime after I said Bryce and before I finished Harper.

But kids do learn by doing.

I finish my beginning of the year speech about practice by telling the kids that we will work on skills and we will practice hard. We will hustle and do everything we do with intensity because (if they have been listening) doing so in practice ensures they will do so in a game.

If we don’t, we will run or do work on our core. But I assure them, whatever we do won’t be very much fun. (I do hold out the carrot, also. Working hard might earn a wiffle ball game or hitting water balloons one practice.)

And I’m a man of my word. The first time someone stops hustling in practice, everything stops and the lesson begins. We might not get better but my players always get in shape.

And now that I have their attention, I remind them that no matter how good they might be, someone out there is better. And working hard. Because he knows that hustle beats talent unless talent hustles.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Hustle Beats Talent Unless Talent Hustles

  1. Jaime Shine says:

    Great post, John! You couldn’t have said it better –> “Good athletes, I tell him, have to be confident enough to know they will succeed but humble enough to listen to coaches teach them how to play.” I was fortunate to have some wonderful coaches who really made a difference in my life. And I love you using Bryce Harper as a reference; I love how he plays. (This is coming from a die-hard Braves fan, so that’s as big of a compliment as I can pay!)

  2. Dad says:

    I’m glad you remember at least some of what I said!!!!
    Dad

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