No, I'm not saying that all athletes are dumb. Fellow Princeton Alum Bill Bradley comes to mind. But the stereotype for athletes is that they are not always the brightest bulb in the box and I read a book that kind of made me think about the whole reason behind this.
I read a book called Moneyball. It is the story of Billy Beane, the General Manger of the Oakland A's. Oakland has consistently been a good team since Billy took over yet they have one of the two lowest payrolls in MLB. It seems almost contradictory compared to the ginormous payrolls of the Yankees and Redsox but there they are, competing every year.
Before he was a general mananger, Billy Beane was a major league prospect. He had all five tools and was destined to be a perennial all-star. He got drafted in the same year as Darryl Strawberry and easily had just as much promise. However Billy did have one flaw. He thought too much about failure.
Billy relates a story about Lenny Dykstra, a fellow prospect. Billy was a cerebral player, Lenny wasn't exactly. One day they are watching Steve Carlton pitch, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Lenny asks, "Who is that?" and Billy shockingly replies, "That is Steve Carlton." Lenny didn't really seem to care. He simply said, "I'm going to stick him". He was too dumb to know or care that he was going to go up against one of the most feared pitchers in the game.
Billy on the other hand was terrified of failure. His fear of failure made it almost impossible for him to actually use his physical gifts to become the star everyone imagined. Everytime he failed, that failure would weigh on him. He would analyze it over and over again. At the age of 27, Billy Beane knew he was never going to make it and went to his manager and walked away from the game.
Reading his story made a lot of sense to me. I'm nowhere near the athlete that Billy was but I do suffer from the same problem. If I screw up something on the basketball court, I think about it for a long time. I am not able to isolate the play and move on to the next, I think about it until the end of the day. Maybe the key to being a great athlete is having no short term memory.