Forgive two basketball (and Steph Curry) related posts in one month (the NBA Playoffs did just end!). If you don’t follow basketball, Steph Curry is a players who has revolutionized the sport with his uncanny three-point shooting. He makes shots so difficult that, a few years ago, no one would have even attempted them (here are some highlights if you’d like to partake).
What’s useful for us to consider is that, by pushing his own ability to make more difficult shots, Curry (and others) paved the way for everyone to try more difficult shots. And guess what? It turns out that everyone can shoot long distance shots better than a decade or two ago.
There was an artificial limit on players’ performance: the expectation that you only take a handful of three-pointers.
A Rising Tide
In 1998, NBA teams averaged 13 three-point attempts per game. In 2018, they averaged 29 attempts! So did they start missing a bunch more? Nope! The percentage of successful three-point shots has hovered around 36% for twenty years. Players doubled their attempts, but also doubled their successes!
What’s the point? Steph Curry didn’t just show that he was better at three pointers, he opened up the possibility for everyone to be better. You might say that Curry raised the ceiling and others benefited.
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Raising Students’ Ceilings
Our gifted students are often limited by the ceilings imposed by textbooks. They need higher ceilings, and as you give them those opportunities, other students — students you didn’t expect — will rise to the occasion. Erica McWilliam calls them “students on the margin of school culture.” If kids are only faced with worksheets and lectures, they’ll be unable to show what they’re really capable of.
This is why, when we test for gifted programs, it’s so important to test as many kids as possible. You never know who, when given the chance, will reveal themselves to be more than anyone bargained for.
Not Just “A Natural”
A final note: it’s easy to chalk Curry’s incredible shooting up to “being a natural,” and certainly he has natural gifts, but Steph Curry became really good at shooting threes… by shooting a lot of threes! Here is a clip from practice in which he fires off one hundred in a row. Let’s not just be impressed that he makes 93 of them, let’s also be impressed by the sheer work that he puts in.
As the saying goes, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.