The mistake isn’t not guessing right

Friday, January 27th, 2017

I don’t follow association football (soccer), but a (fairly) recent Guardian piece noted that Shrewsbury’s Mat Sadler was about to face his old under-17 teammate Wayne Rooney, of Manchester United, until Rooney got injured, and this was especially interesting because so few players from that young men’s team made it in the big leagues:

Only five of the 18 members of an England squad who finished third in that tournament in Denmark are still playing professional football, with several slipping into the non-league scene, such as the former Nottingham Forest midfielder Ross Gardner, who now turns out for West Auckland Town and works for British Gas, while others have walked away from the game altogether.


Sadler’s story started at Birmingham City, where the left-back made his Premier League debut at the age of 17 and was extremely well-regarded, so much so that when the Football Association’s technical department organised a “Player Audit” in 2003, his name was one of 25 considered as “certainties” for full England honours.

Fascinated by a list he was never aware of until now, Sadler scans through the names of which only seven — Jermaine Jenas, Michael Carrick, Aaron Lennon, Glen Johnson, Michael Dawson, David Bentley and James Milner — vindicated the FA’s judgment. “There are a few that did get there but more that didn’t. It’s nice company to keep, though,” Sadler says, smiling. “I might frame that.”

Doug Lemov points out that present skill is easier to spot than future skill — or talent:

We think we see the future but we don’t. Learning curves, physiological growth curves, attitudes, health, commitment, psychology — they are all too unpredictable. The mistake isn’t not guessing right. It’s betting too heavily on the guess.

Grouping athletes or students by achievement level only works if the grouping is fluid, if it’s constantly changing and responding to progress.


  1. Watcher says:

    Many football (soccer) fans know all too well the many slips between promise and realisation. Years ago one of my sons, at age 14, played against a lad who scored goals –many goals, including eight against my son’s team — almost for fun. Less than three years later this ‘talented’ youngster (not my son alas) played at the very top level of the English game. He looked promising for a game, and then largely disappeared. A year later he went to a minor league club, played three or four games there and gave up playing.

    On the other hand my ex-wife used to teach a lad who had nothing but energy and enthusiasm and made it to the top of British football (in both England and Scotland) and won England honours. The difference from what I can tell, is that first ‘talented’ player said he ‘knew it all’ while the successful enthusiast listened to advice and followed instructions.

    In the end it all comes to attitude, avoiding distractions and willingness to learn.

Leave a Reply