Sunday, August 18, 2013
The Sports Gene - a/k/a logical fallacies in the Davis White narrative
Charlie White retweeted the above, which links to this:
Root of Athletic Success - NY Times Review
I haven't read the book that's reviewed, but reading the review Charlie linked, it focuses on athletes who may not be the most naturally talented, but compensate by putting in the work. Or, as Tanith Belbin would say, "puttin in the work." Even after "Everyone else gone home."
If you're not gifted compared to, say, your nearest rivals, but you put in Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours (Gladwell postulates this is the magical number for true mastery of a skill), you may end up the winner.
It appears to me that the usual DW narrative presents them as gosh darn hardworking ice dancers.
But that's kind of like Gilles/Poirier presenting themselves as skaters with "personality". Implicit in that label is other skaters lack personality. Because Gilles/Poirier claim personality as their signature, they must have the MOST personality. That's simply not true of Gilles/Poirier.
Likewise, in the narrative of Davis/White as hard-working athletes who leave it all on the ice, there's the implication that they work the hardest. Just as because their apparent distinguishing characteristics as skaters is that they're fast and powerful, the implication is that they're the MOST fast and powerful.
But they're not. And they're not the hardest working.
What if the naturally talented athletes/rivals work as hard - or harder - as the less gifted athletes/dancers? What if they also are "puttin in the time."? What if, in fact, they thrive on discipline, on challenge, on setting impossible goals and meeting or exceeding them? What if they're so gifted they do this every season, versus doing the kind of hard work that involves repetition of the same stuff you already know?
It appears to me that the US media narrative, and DW's narrative, is that Davis and White are the hardest working, and, through hard work, they've defeated - who? Beautiful dilettantes? Scott and Tessa who just roll out of bed and float through their practice on the strength of natural ability? Scott and Tessa who, like, say, Jessica Dube, never try new things? A lazy Scott and Tessa who "take a break" in the 4CC's fd and still expect to win (the reaction to that event was a red flag in SO many ways. SO many asses showing.)?
Scott and Tessa put in the hours AND take on riskier programs, elements, choreography. Davis and White put in the hours so that they can maintain their delivery of, essentially, a five year old program. Scott and Tessa have improved their speed and power to where even a casual observer can tell they're faster and more powerful than Davis and White - obviously so, all the while executing programs that are increasingly challenging both choreographically and athletically, with skating skills that any idiot can tell are superior to Davis and White's.
Did Scott and Tessa accomplish this over brunch in London?
Scott showed yet another improvement this season - his topline. How did that happen? At fashion shows? He didn't spend hours on the ice with the posture bar? Not for nothing, his topline looks natural, not like something he's thinking about or reminding himself to maintain. There's nothing stiff in it. His skating is as natural and spontaneous as it's always been. What kind of hours does it take to make something unnatural into something natural? What kind of hours PLUS talent for movement does it take? Is talent a dirty word now? Does it imply short cuts, coasting etc? Is talent supposed to be fair? Are we, as a teacher from Scott's old middle school, in an excess of Olympic zeal, once said, ALL supposed to be capable of Olympic gold if we work hard?
What happens when the less talented, but plucky supposed underdog works their ass off vis a vis a far more talented athlete that is working every bit as hard and, on top of that, working smarter? A lesser product plus hard work is more deserving than a superior product plus hard work? Is that the narrative for Davis White and Sochi gold?
I certainly hope they don't hammer down on that theme this year, because every time they do, the implication is Virtue Moir don't work as hard. And they know better. Virtue Moir submit themselves to types of training that DW shun, for example. Neither Davis nor White really wants to spend the time on ballet, which might at least improve their unison and alignment. Scott Moir doesn't strike me as somebody who would embrace ballet given his druthers, but his figure skating career is more important to him than his personal preferences, and he submits to training in that as well as training in myriad other ways that develop his skating. Is it unfair that when Scott applies himself to something like ballet, that he gets results, whereas when Charlie White tries ballet, it doesn't do much for him? Does that say something about ballet or does it say something about Charlie (and Meryl's) abilities?
This may be a season where the narrative is that talent is an unfair advantage.