Professional sports are experiencing a youth movement. Yesterday’s NBA draft ushered in a whole new crop of rising stars. Major League Baseball has seen more highly rated prospects called up and contributing to their teams than any season in recent memory: Kris Bryant of the Cubs, Joc Pederson of the Dodgers, Byron Buxton of the Twins, Carlos Correa of the Astros, and dozens more. The top two picks in last spring’s NFL Draft were quarterbacks, the most important position on the field, and several other teams are handing the reins over to second-year QBs this coming year.
Young players generate excitement, passion, and hope. The potential for greatness titillates. We love what they could be, but this often causes us to overlook what they are: frustrating, inconsistent, unreliable.
Bryce Harper may be the most prolific hitter in baseball this season, but it took the Washington Nationals outfielder three years of fits and starts to get there. Some doubted he’d ever succeed. Robert Griffin III exploded onto the scene as a rookie for the Washington Redskins in 2012, but in the past two seasons has faltered and lost the confidence of coaches and fans alike. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, and Oakland’s Derek Carr all took over as starting QBs for their teams last season. All three struggled. Almost the entire first round of players taken in the 2014 NBA draft underwhelmed.
But whose fault is it when rookies disappoint? Isn’t that primarily a matter of expectations? We hype them—with little reason or historical precedent—to a level they simply can’t reach. The disappointment that follows is our own fault.
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Any parent knows maturity develops over time. We know it because we’ve experienced it, and because our children reinforce this truth with every frustrating choice. When a company hires interns it expects intern-level decision-making and work, not an instant CEO. The college-aged youth pastor isn’t asked to do marital counseling or handle church discipline. Sandwich makers at Subway don’t get promoted to chef at Michelin-rated restaurants. Why? Because our expectations are in line with the age, skill level, and maturity of the person in question.
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