In Search of Greatness
Director Gabe Polsky explores the nature v nurture question by looking at the careers of a number of legendary athletes and analysing their approaches to mental preparation, practice and performance. He interviews three athletes who excelled in their respective disciplines: ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky, American football star Jerry Rice, and football legend Pelé, who talk about their upbringing and the way their journeys began and evolved.
All three acknowledge the importance of having a good mentor, but what set them apart is that they were driven by an intense, almost obsessive passion for their sport, and they had their own unique vision. The tendency to practice assiduously came from a genuine desire to improve rather than any external pressures to become important and achieve fame. Polsky also speaks to educationalist Ken Robinson and sports journalist David Epstein, who offer some insightful observations about the psychology behind achieving greatness and the importance of creative freedom.
The tone of the documentary is motivational, and viewers are invited to question the importance that is generally given to statistics and data. The pigeon-holing of athletes tends to dictate, a priori, who can or can’t succeed according to averages, but bending the rules is what allows the extraordinary to emerge. Various examples are given of athletes who did not match the standardised ideal (due to their height, physique or a disability) but went on to excel.
Polsky shows that the benefits of rule-breaking are not limited to the world of sports, and cites a few examples of iconic musicians going against the grain and becoming legends. The central idea is that talent and dedication go hand in hand, but both are hampered by too-structured thinking. There is some great advice for overzealous parents who believe that filling their children’s schedules with activities will help them succeed. The documentary argues that unscheduled time for free creative expression in childhood is what helped the majority of successful sportspeople find their call and hone their unique skills out of sheer passion.
Inspirational and uplifting, In Search of Greatness delivers a valuable message: talent needs room to breathe and expand into its best expression, and this cannot be achieved within a rigid system of pre-set rules.
In Search of Greatness is released digitally on demand on 6th May 2020.
Watch the trailer for In Search of Greatness here: