Genius is something that happens – Nick Saban

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” – Unknown

The best way to appreciate sports is to see them through an imaginary microscope that we all possess as human beings, you know, that unique ability to see something, grab it for a “larger” second, and see the meaning behind it.

Jalen Hurts, the kid that became the first black starting quarterback in Alabama program history to win a national title, and that one day was considered the best Crimson Tide quarterback – regardless of age or race – in 125 years, was struggling like never before in the season. The reigning SEC offensive player of the year was 3 of 8 passes for 21 yards to start the game. At halftime, the player that had taken his team to back to back championship games was looking more like Blake Bortles.

Then, something unexpected, and incredible happened.

No, I am not talking about that amazing performance by Kendrick Lamar that made everybody, including Lee Corso, jumped through the roof and recreate the amazing “let’s dance and somehow save Zion” scene in The Matrix.

No, I am talking about that brave and brilliant decision made by one of the greatest college football coach of all time. One of his many.

“Oh my…”; “Hold on, is Jalen injured?”; “What the $%&! is going on?” – Were some of the reactions in every house, bar, and seat inside beautiful “chick-fil-a open” Mercedes Benz Stadium.

No matter how often we have seen these outstanding people, like Nick Saban, made these «outrageous» decisions before, looks like we always react the same way (Remember that onside kick against Clemson?). It is like we always forget that not being afraid to think differently and take risks has always been a crucial component of their huge success.

But, why?

Why do we immediately tend to second guess these genius’ decisions, and, after their actions actually work we justify ourselves with thoughts like: “Of course, only Saban can do this, he is a legend, he can get away with it”.

In reality, when we react surprised, it is not because we forget the fact that geniuses always act like this, what we are really doing is unconsciously choosing to dismiss the process behind it.

We simply forget about the process that lead them there. The equivalent of thinking that whatever Nick Saban, Bill Belichick or Warren Buffet do, is some sort of product of their unique brains and super human intelligence.

In other words, our lazy minds like to think that these people just make these things happen.

The author Jordan Ellenberg could have not described it better on his great book “How not to be wrong, the power of mathematical thinking” when he wrote:

“The cult of genius also tends to undervalue hard work…the ability to work hard – to keep one’s whole attention and energy focused on a problem, systematically turning it over and over and pushing at everything that looks like a crack, despite the lack of outward signs of progress – is not a skill everybody has. Genius is a thing that happens, not a kind of person.”

Putting a true freshman as quarterback in the game with the biggest stage in college football, and, above else, expecting him to make a 21-point comeback like if he was Tom Brady, is not a matter of genius bravery, is a product of astonishing self-confidence only obtained after years and years of hard work.

The decision to trust on Tua Tagovailoa was not made by Saban on Monday, it was made gradually over many days of recruiting him, over months of practicing and getting him ready, over years of creating “the process” on which football must be learned, and over decades of dedicating his life to teaching this beautiful game.

So, next time we get so fortunate to experience one of these Genius Moments in sports, or, even better, in our lives, we must not forget that they are created commonly by these outliers, not because they were magically born this way, but because they have put the time, effort, and resilience to make us believe so.

Same effort we are all capable of making. We just need to do it and find that thing we cannot live without. Our national championship.

If we do, eventually, our brilliant decisions will show up…out of nowhere like a freshman quarterback.

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