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great athletes

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First place is what great athletes aim for.

In the beginning competition reflected the nature of mankind.

Whether you cheer for the first life-form slithering from the sea, or the Garden of Eden story, first place is the only place.

First place is the happy place.

Losers get disappointment and bitterness. They all come after first place.

Either way, a third party always has a comment.

From a conversation after the first marathon:

Pheidippides ran into the Greek army headquarters where he found his commanding officer leaning over a table.

“We have won,” he reported, then fell dead.

“Very good,” the commander said.

He studied a map and didn’t look up. He moved one stone on the map.

“Greece 1, Persia 0 for the Battle of Marathon,” he said. “The route is on.”

Another messenger ran into headquarters.

“We have won,” he said, chest heaving.

“That is so fourteen seconds ago. Now help your fellow messenger. It looks as if he needs libation.”

What was the second runner’s name? No one cares, and you know there was a second runner if you’ve seen any war movie.

Here’s a man who ran the race of his life and died, and you know what it looks like.

Alberto Salazar had a dead man’s face after winning the 1982 Boston Marathon. Who got second?

A few years ago Salazar died for fourteen minutes and came back. He’s modern medicine’s version of the Great Greek.

We know Pheidippides from the investigative journalism of his time, the third party.

Great athletes draw attention.


Sports writer Heraclides Ponticus covered the run a few hundred years after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. (For an overview of the era, watch the trailer to 300.)

Another few hundreds of years later Plutarch posted his account of the same marathon.

You have to appreciate a sports page in books like On The Glory Of Athens as much as you do the urgency of the reporting.

There’s no place like first place if you want to be remembered.

Today the word marathon includes an immediate image of a dead runner, a dying runner, and an old-school New York taxi.

Or maybe that’s just me. Stick with the runner.

Now ask yourself which sports stories will make the archives 2000 years out when no one knows for certain?

Will it be the Harlem Globetrotters, or the Washington Generals; the Dallas Cowboys, or the Buffalo Bills; the Yankees, or the Dodgers;  Celtics, or Lakers; John Wooden, or Mike Krzyzewski.

(The Greeks weren’t the only civilization with difficult names.)

Legendary winners go to the front of the line. Always.

They push their way up. Early training makes a big difference.


Coaching great athletes.


Modern sports are an accumulation of rules and endurance.

Every variation of movement that can be taught and repeated comes with the same baggage.

Great athletes learn it first and lighten the load for their team. They are the people who make the hard things look easy.

And it starts early.

The parent manuals most people buy and don’t read ought to include more sports.

In Rules For Sports Parents you’d find the sort of answers you need, like, “When will my baby’s instinct to hit a ball kick in?”

This question comes up the day after birth.

Of course babies track and respond to the mobiles hanging over their cribs. That’s what they do.

It’s what you’d do too if you were behind bars in a new room with no umbilical cord for the first time.

Will they become great athletes?


My research shows ball recognition starts soon after a baby learns to sit upright on their own.

The sitting position increases a baby’s field of vision and creates a moment they’ll see the rest of their lives: There’s something coming at them.

Avoid propping them in a corner, it’s an early crutch they don’t need.

A baby waving it’s arms to stay balanced and hitting a bubble ball on accident is one of the great thrills of parenthood.

You can call an entire game in five minutes, and you should.

“Here’s the always dangerous Joceline at the plate. She’s a switch-hitter with power from both sides. Here’s the wind-up…and the pitch.”

If the baby’s arm swings and makes any contact, it’s a hit.

“She chips a blooper down the right field line. The first baseman turns and sprints. The right fielder comes up fast. The pitcher runs toward first to cover.”

Watch to see if baby’s eyes follow your hands pointing from the mount to the base. If you get into a stare down, go with the Andy Petite goat-eye style.

“The ball drops when the first baseman looks up at the charging right fielder who bare hands it on the bounce and gives it a half-toss to the pitcher. And here comes Joceline with a full head of steam. The pitcher bobbles the ball and looses it when he steps into the base path in front of the J Train. Safe on first. Now they bring in a pinch runner.”

If the baby is looking at their hand, or dozing off, you need to up your game.

But if baby gives you the smiley-eyes and waves their arms and bounces on their bottom in excitement like you’re doing (and you will be), then you’ve got a keeper.

You’ve also got a game to pitch and call.

Keep in mind, you won’t damage your baby if you roll an easy one down the middle and they hit a home run.

Give them easy pitches until they start this chatter:

“That’s it? That’s all you got? You’ve been playing twenty eight years and I’m in my rookie season and I’m hitting you like Prince Fielder hits the buffet. Come on, I need a little more effort out there. Ma, we got a lefty in the bullpen? Warm them up. This guy’s got a noodle arm.”

Go, Trash Talking Baby, go.

About David Gillaspie
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