Don’t make this Super-Mistake!

February 3, 2012

Drew Schrader

The Manning brothers are squarely in the middle of the obsessive media hype in the lead-up to the Superbowl. I indulge in a number of sports podcasts, and part of the running hum of questions has been around comparing the two and their respective legacies:

If Eli gets his second Superbowl, where does that put him on the list of all-time QBs?

Could Eli’s postseason successes be more impressive than big brother’s amazing regular season work?

If Peyton is done, is there really a chance we might be debating which of the Manning Bros had the better career 5 years from now?

Lost in all of this is what I see as a far more interesting question:

How is it that two children from the same family have found themselves at the top of a world as competitive as the National Football League?

My worry is that we aren’t asking this question because we assume we know the answer:


After all, their dad Archie was a great NFL QB. It’s genetics, they were simply BORN to be great quarterbacks right?

Not so fast. Certainly there is a genetic component to all of this, both top 6’4″ and are somewhere in the visinity of 220 – they are professional athlete sized. But certainly Archie Manning isn’t the only great quarterback to have sons right? And with apologies to the South, there have certainly been quarterback with greater physical gifts to pass on than Archie right?

So perhaps an even more interesting question is:

Why haven’t there been more siblings to make it to elite positions in the NFL or other sports? Or, why don’t the children of all great athletes go on to be equally great?

Hint, it’s NOT TALENT

I think the answer is found in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. In this fantastic little book, Coyle shatters our cultural myth about the importance of talent and explains the biology of myelin wrapping and its effect on high levels of performance. Additionally, he provides a great breakdown of the notion of “deep practice” and its capacity to develop the kind of unconscious skill and response we too often attribute to naturally bestowed gifts.

The web is full of adorable family videos of the Manning boys playing football growing up. Their biographies also outline driving commitments to excel paired with unusual access to high levels of the game. In other words – deep practice. Peyton probably had his 10,000 hours in (the time Gladwell identifies for becoming an expert in Outliers: The Story of Success) by the time he was 17.

The notion of talent is one that plagues our schools and our culture at large. The amazing reality of learning and performance is we have far more ability to shape our own capacities than we have ever imagined. When confronted with high levels of performance, our tendency is replay the idea of talent. As you watch the Superbowl this weekend, try interrupting this false narrative around talent each time they flash to Peyton in his luxury box or talk about the brothers together. Think “deep practice” and “potential” instead.

Given the over/under on “Peyton Sightings” is somewhere north of 50, you should be developing your “deep practice” talent in no time!