Gabe Polsky, the producer and director of the documentary "In Search of Greatness," joins Coach Johnny and Dr. Larry to discuss his thoughts on creativity in sport, coaching for creativity and coaching it out of youth. We go deep into several of the themes in the documentary, including parenting talented athletes, the need to be creative to survive, the rage to master and balancing freedom and control. Gabe talks about his own creativity in developing the documentary and how frustration is a part of that process.


J: Welcome to Compete Like a Champion. You're here with Dr. Larry Lauer, Mental Skills Specialist, and coach Johnny Parkes with USTA Player Development. Today we're very very excited. We have the director of the "In Search of Greatness" documentary feature, Gabe Polsky with us. Gabe, thanks for joining.

G: Yeah, it's great to be here with you guys.

J: So Gabe, I just wanted to kind of go through the synopsis of the film and a little bit of background, but maybe you'll do a much better job of introducing yourself here, but you're an award winning American film director, writer, and producer. You did direct and produce the film "In Search of Greatness," which was a groundbreaking feature documentary revealing the true nature and nurture of the greatest athletes of all time, including Wayne Gretzky, Pele, Jerry Rice, Muhammad Ali, Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, as well as many others. Through a series of intimate conversations and captivating footage, you basically lead the viewers on an entertaining, thrilling, inspiring, personal journey of what it takes to become great. And you know, Larry and I actually did a podcast, episode 17 now, back when we first started doing the Compete Like a Champion podcast because we were, we love the documentary so much, we just wanted to get on the mic and talk about it. But maybe if I can hand it over to you now Gabe and give us a little introduction about yourself, and again, just thank you so much for joining us. We're very, very honored that you were able to find the time to be with us.

G: No, it's my pleasure and from talking to you guys a little bit before the call, you know, you guys really seem to you know, think about the things you know, on a much deeper level, and sport and so it's an honor really to talk to you guys. You guys are kind of on the ground and seeing what's happening in sport development so it's really cool to be doing this. I'm, uh, you know, as you said, you know, I make mainly documentaries and I've made other you know, feature films and television projects, notably the series Genius on NatGeo with Albert Einstein. And so, I basically have always been very, you know, curious about, you know, people who kind of break the mold and you know, who revolutionized their fields and just sort of the conflicts that they had to overcome and the obstacles and sort of people who, you know, create something new and then meet some kind of resistance because what they're doing is very different, and so people kind of naturally are threatened by it or don't really understand it. So I also come from a sports background where I played division one hockey at Yale and then kind of grew up very competitive athlete trying to be the best hockey player I could be, but also you know just loving sports and realizing that you know every sport is going to kind of give me a richer sort of mental and physical ability. So let's say you know even though I was playing hockey as my main sport, I always thought that like tennis, I played a lot of tennis and basketball and you know even waterskiing and basically every sport or baseball, you know, it was gonna kind of give me more range as an athlete and mental flexibility. And so I really love - it's great to be talking with you guys about tennis - I really love playing and always was challenged by it. And so anyways, with In Search for Greatness, you know, I had always thought that there's sort of hasn't been a film, sort of singular film, about kind of talent and the nature of greatness and like through the eyes of the greatest athletes. I always felt that, you know, there hasn't been - maybe podcasts and sort of other things - but there really hasn't been a just a great film that kind of really goes deep into what it is, what is greatness? How can it be nurtured? And sort of, I also felt that growing up there wasn't much emphasis or encouragement on sort of creative thinking in sport. And oftentimes it was sort of looked down upon when you were trying to be creative and you know, your coaches sort of didn't know what you were doing and they wanted you to kind of do with what they wanted you to do and if you're doing something different, you kind of were benched or something like that. And but when I went to the stadiums and watched some of the greatest athletes in any sport, I always saw that that was like, really what attracted me to the, to those players in those sports just seeing kind of expressions of creativity, and things that I've never seen before, it really felt like it was a performance like these guys were artists, and they were doing something amazing, you know. And then I tried to imitate them, you know, when I practiced or in my backyard, or, you know, that's just what I thought was sport was really all about what were these amazing expressions. But yet, you know, when I went back to practice and whatever is just never talked about or sort of, again, encouraged, so I thought that that was very strange. And especially kind of the higher you got, the more almost rigid the systems became, you know. And so, it is really something you needed to do on your own, and then kind of slide by somehow, you know, while you're playing. So again, this notion of creativity and that sort of the vitality of that "In Search of Greatness" and sort of in how these athletes became who they were. And then beyond that, I knew that in order to make a film about greatness, that it was just, it wouldn't work without getting to the greatest athletes of all time and including them and really making it feel like it's through their eyes, you know, because no one cares really about, you know, commentators or analysts, or documentary filmmakers, or whatever. We really want to, you can't really argue with the greatest of all time and how what their experience was and what they say because they did it. They are the greatest. So I knew that I had to, I had to tell the film through their eyes. And so that's kind of how I started this whole thing.

L: Well, thanks, Gabe for making this film because I think it shared a number of insights and I think the big one, the sort of this genesis of the film is about creativity right? And ways you feel like creativity gets stifled by the structure of sport. Maybe talk more about your understanding of creativity and how that's developed.

G: Yeah, I mean, there's different kind of, I don't have kind of a strict definition of it, but let me kind of give us some examples. Maybe a couple that were in the film. Okay. So a lot of times you'll see these athletes, the greatest athletes of all time, they're not sort of genetically superior physical specimens, you know, that you would think you know, would be great in sports. They're oftentimes a lot kind of maybe physically weaker, have a deficiencies in different aspects about them. And so let's take Wayne Gretzky as an example, you know, he's a hockey player that was smaller and, you know, wasn't necessarily as fast as everybody else, but because he kind of had these limitations ,he had to kind of think about how he was going to basically compete in the sport and the way he was going to do it. He sort of figured out through creative methods; through study and kind of trial and error was that he had to kind of understand the game on a different level. And he did that by A) watching the sport, you know, watching videos non-stop, but also, you know, really studying the game and experimenting in his backyard. And so he kind of figured out different ways to A) kind of understand where the flow of the game was going on a much deeper level than everybody else. But also, you know, trying little things like, you know, going behind the net, what nobody was doing that and sort of using the net as an obstacle, so other players couldn't really get to him from behind there. And he sort of, you know, was able to amass tremendous amount of goals and assists from behind there. And so that's one example. Then we see Rocky Marciano, who was one of the basically greatest boxers of all time, aside from Muhammad Ali. He was shorter and had very short reach, and so because he didn't have the physical ability that let's say boxers, they thought needed to have with long arms and all and be tall. He was able to really figure out a new way to box, which was getting really going getting really close to his opponents and going from underneath and figure out how to how to attack from a close range. So these are all kind of examples of ways athletes can be creative with their, you know, when it's their own 

J: Individual traits?

G: Exactly, yeah. And so that's kind of what creativity is. But it's also, you know, it's also understanding that athletics, you know, on a high level is also about performance and about showmanship. And so there is this sort of the beauty to it and understanding kind of, I don't know, making things look easy that like Roger Federer that, you know, actually take a lot of practice, but that there's beauty and perfection, you know. And so, that's also kind of a creative way of looking at it, thinking about the games from way different angles, different things, all the things that you can do and trial and error and that's all creativity, you know, it's just.

J: What was fascinating that you portrayed so our thoughts so well and was this notion around individually constraints that they all had. So whether you look to Michael Jordan found a way to always put a constraint in his mind, like a chip on his shoulder; you know, Marciano had a small reach, a reach that most people said would not be able to cut it at the, in boxing, in the division he was competing in; Gretzky openly says he was not the best athlete, if he was having to go through all these different type of athletic testing, he'd be last; Jerry Rice, you know, talking about, you know, the, some of the constraints. So it was very interesting, you know. And then so, Garrincha - that was because I'm, you know, I love football soccer - Garrincha, that Pele talked about, a soccer player there that actually physically had knees that were pointed in the wrong directions, and he shouldn't have been able to do some things that he could do. And they all found a way to be great using these individual constraints to create new unique ways of playing their sport that goes outside of a mold that we also, that we as most coaches go to now: well, this is the model athlete, Roger Federer is the model athlete, we need to produce the model athlete. So it's like they're producing, we're producing all these models, like, okay, this stage model goes on to the next stage model. And we put all these athletes in boxes because we're trying to produce this model. So we create models of progression. But it doesn't work because all these models, there's not been the model athlete yet because everyone is just, as you portrayed, was just so unique and in the styles that they were able to produce. But, you know, I thought that was absolutely fascinating there. But I want to go back a little bit to the unstructured play, and I know Larry, we've talked a lot about this in terms of highly structured play versus unstructured play. And maybe let's tie it to the situation we're in with COVID-19. I don't know what it's like around your area, but we're seeing so many families out playing with each other, kids are back on the, you know, in the parks playing with each other, amongst each other, you know, do you think we have an opportunity here to look at providing more unstructured play and the lessons that we've learned in taking away too much structure? And do you think that we could get back to that?

G: Yeah, I mean, I think it definitely is an opportunity, as you said. Kind of in the film, it's pretty much essential that every athlete has a lot of opportunity to kind of just have unstructured play and mess around on the streets or in their backyard and kind of experiment with different things. Again, not necessarily, they're just playing - it's not like, again, you're trying to be unstructured. But yeah, that's where a lot of greatness comes from. It's also where just the pure enjoyment of games are, you know, they're not in sort of rigid drilling, and all this. The love and beauty of sport comes from just playing, you know, that's what it's all about. And so and that's also what drives, you know, athletes to play and become great is the love of the game and without that love and sort of playing you know, you've got nothing really. You know what I'm saying. You can't go anywhere without that. And so you always have to come back to that. And when there's a little bit more free time and you don't have to go to practice quote unquote, I think that it's a great opportunity also to flex your own, you know, creative muscles and what are we going to do okay, let's make up a game or make up a little thing we can do, you know what I'm saying? That helps your mind you know, become a little bit more flexible, a little bit more muscular in that way, you know?

J: Sorry Larry, one moment. Do you think that we've moved to partly moved away from that because we can't measure that. Other than saying they had X amount of unstructured play. Or we could generalize how much. Do you think that we've moved away from that? Because we've moved into more of a scientific heavy world and you can't really measure it?

G: Well, yeah, I mean, and I'm not sure what the dynamics are with regards to let's say, what you guys are doing or other governing bodies or professional organizations because they exist, they have to prove what they're doing. And so, you know, it's always about numbers and how can we show, how can we prove that? You know, it becomes somewhat problematic, but what I can say is that, in just coming back to the movie, no matter what, you know, this is what these guys are saying, the greatest of all time, that's just like, the most important thing is to have that freedom. And I think also with coaching, just being a little bit more open-minded to new ways of thinking, that there's no fixed, like you guys are saying, way to do things. That it has to always be changing and you have to be mentally flexible and open minded and give people opportunity to create and be a little bit free. You see that a lot of the greatest athletes also really appreciate having a level of freedom and their own innovation, you know. And so it's about really encouraging that and kind of facilitating that for the athletes, you know. Their own way to experience it and learn because the learning is much better when you're actually like, struggling through it on your own in certain ways. You know, because you're really learning it. You're forced to, you know?

L: Yeah, Gabe. This is great. And I think when we talk about this, it seems in some ways that we may have over-structured sport or over-scheduled it to take the creativity out of it. That seems to be one of the things that was going on in the movie, right that the players were talking about that somehow we've over structured things. What do you what are your thoughts on that - why that's happening or why it has happened?

G: Well, why has it happened? I think there there may be, like this sort of almost obsessive, maybe it's parenting, like people become more obsessive about how to be great and all these programs and it gets ultra competitive and then more and more scheduling and people get busier and busier. And so I don't know, everything needs to be kind of scheduled and, you know. So originally, I don't know, that's, you know, and then it becomes more sort of robotic and machine-like, the whole process, and I think kids start to lose the love of it, you know, because you just feel like, it's so rigid. And this is sort of, I don't know, like, there has to be a level of freedom and play that gets you to love the sport, you know. I mean, I'm just talking kind of intuitively here, you know, and, and also, that's where you see, when there is freedom and play, these sort of moments of brilliance and kind of these beautiful expressions of genius and sport and all that. And so, I don't know, on the one hand, we all know that you, you know, that there has to be a level of discipline at a certain point and in sport and if you're just sort of - it's hard to, if you don't develop a level of discipline in what you're doing even if in whatever field you're in, you kind of you start to lose your focus a little bit - so it's finding that balance and maybe we've we've gone a little bit too far in the structured thing, and so we're starting to lose the art of things in performance athletes, and it sort of becomes - you see performers, yeah, they're technically sound, but there's no kind of brilliance or sort of artistic genius in what these people are doing. But I'm not in the professional sport field right now. I'm a little bit out of it, because, you know, A) my kid's too young and B) I just you know, now I'm a filmmaker, so I'm not really focused on that. So it's more about you guys seeing what's going on and is that really the case? Seems like the athletes in my film, the greatest athletes, seem to be saying that, that it's just become... My main question to these athletes were, like in sports, sometimes, games seem more rigid. There's less, I don't know, a lot of times there's, you're seeing less of that brilliance and sort of creative flourishes, you know? It seems to me that way, when I'm watching and when I flip on sports or whatever, just you know, everything seems homogenous. Yes, they're great athletes and whatever, but it just doesn't...

L I think what we try to do is try to control the variables we can control, right? G: Mm hmm. L:  As coaches administrators, here and Johnny was kind of alluding to that: here's the model tennis players, so we've got to develop towards that, right? But what we have learned, and your movie brings that out is that the great ones don't follow the model. They make their own. They break the mold. And they were given the opportunity to actually explore that. If Wayne's father and his mother hadn't supported his way of playing, they might have made him stay at Branford and play, you know, a more robot robotic sort of system style. Maybe you don't have the Wayne Gretzky, you ended up seeing.

G: Well and you won't, yeah, that's for sure. And plus, like, I don't think - I think that the reason why these guys loved it so much is because they didn't, they weren't being forced into a mold. You know what I'm saying? When when you're doing something that it just doesn't feel right or 'you,' you're just sort of trying to copy a mold, I don't know, it's not as fun. Do you know what I'm saying?

J: What comes to mind when you say that is when you put in that little excerpt from the Simpsons where they were playing soccer. But that in itself, I mean, to come back to talking about some of your creative process because the way you know, I watched it again last night, so it's probably about the 20th time that I've watched it now. But the way that you piece things together in terms of pulling in, I mean, it was always coming back to the art of what we do, like you saying it's a performance and an art, but they're the way that you piece together the film with inserting in quotes and pulling in resources, and excerpts from multiple domains just shows you that this isn't just synonymous with athletics, it's across all domains that we need to have this creative process in order to produce and develop, you know, develop the content that we find interesting, and the way that we want to play, and the things that we want to do. But I may be just veering away a little bit because I'm interested a little bit about your process, Gabe is the way you piece together just seemed like it was very creative, like your, the way you pieced it together was like - your brain is making connections and you're connecting that to the way that you structure out and the flow of that documentary. And so maybe just, you know, do you have any insights into kind of what your creative processes is that people could, I guess, learn from?

G: Yeah, well, this was a very challenging movie, in that, you know, anytime you have a movie that's not really a kind of a narrative story thread, where you have a beginning and you see a character go, you know, from one place all the way to another place or multiple characters or you're following one story, you know, it's a challenge, right? Because this is a story about ideas and about, you know, almost, you know, it's philosophical and it's basically this the story about the greatest athletes of all time, but I'm not taking you in from necessarily all their childhood. This is them. This is their, you know, but so it's about ideas. So I had to grab the audience very early, and any film, you got to kind of really excite the audience and get them in and show them something different. You know, like, right off the bat, this isn't your sort of average film. And I kind of start off showing you that like, the greatest athletes of all time, they're physically kind of deficient, you know, exactly the opposite of what you expect, right, and gets people excited, because everybody thinks, Oh, well, maybe I can do this. Or my son, he's not like the greatest - he's sort of smaller or whatever, but at least he might have a shot, you know what I'm saying. So, I start out that way, and then and then I have to kind of I have to I walk you through the film basically breaking up the film through different themes. So you start with, you know, parenting, and then you go into kind of genetics, then you go into psychology, then you go into motivation. And then, you know, you go into, you know, teamwork, things like that, but I try and do it in a way that's not kind of academic or boring. You know, I didn't have chapters, I decided to include this philosopher Alan Watts, who's at the forefront of bringing Eastern philosophy to the West. I really liked his ideas always in the way he communicated this and I thought that a lot of these ideas were very relevant in this film. So I kind of, I had to thread that in, and what this film is is kind of like, is me weaving interesting ideas into the film so that people can really digest them and really go from one thing to the other, but not really even understand where this is going, but just enjoying the process, you know, the experience of it, but then also learning as they're going; there's just a lot of material to chew on and think about and 'oh, wow,' and you're seeing all these great athletes. Then we talk about you know, showmanship and Ali as a poet and a showman and sort of seeing these athletes in a different way than maybe you've ever experienced them. It was a creative process. I didn't know how the film was gonna, you know, it was an exploration as I was going at this also. So it's a little bit - you have to kind of really accept being insecure about that not knowing kind of where the how the film was going to be, you know, the story was going to go or be put together. But I knew that each moment had to be great. You know, you can't. And so if one moment was just sort of, 'oh, this is it's good, but it's not great,' then it's kind of out, you know what I'm saying? And I think just like a tennis match, like each moment, you just focus on the exact moment that's in front of you. And then it takes you into the next moment. And then you know, you're sort of reacting and you keep moving on, you know what I'm saying?

L: Yeah, absolutely. That's tremendous. And a couple of things in there Gabe. One is how you started the film grabbed me right away. And I was glad Johnny asked that, because I turned it on like, oh, okay, "In Search of Greatness." Well, this is obviously a subject that that I'm interested in and been trying to study for most of my life and here's a film about it, and I see Gretzky's in it so I'm sold right away as you know. And then you start out with "I wasn't the most talented," and I'm like, oh, okay. Now everybody can relate to this, because this is a story about the greatest and yet they're saying that I wasn't the most talented. So it opens the door to everybody; that was a brilliant on your part, I thought. And then just hearing your process of the watching the film and now it makes even more sense as we talk to you creatively going through and it wasn't like okay, step one, the early years and step two, it was this flow of ideas amongst these different performers and very creative flow to it. So I felt like you tackled the subject in the way that you would want to, very creatively. At least that's what I was able to extract.

G: Yeah, so like, you know, the interesting thing is a I only had an hour with each of these athletes, with Jerry got a little bit more, but, you know, most documentarians, they get like, many hours with their subject, right, but you know, the greatest of all time, I didn't know how long and then you know, these guys, they didn't really understand what I was doing because there's a little bit of an abstract idea and concept and maybe they get approached to do movies about great people a lot, you know what I'm saying? But, you know, so I, because I had such little time with them, I also had to be incredibly focused and creative about how I asked questions and sort of how - I had to kind of understand what were the main themes that I was going, because look, all I had was just a little bit of a thing and I had to use whatever I got, you know, so that was really difficult too. And then I wasn't gonna get all the greatest athletes of all time, like Michael Jordan, and Serena, you know, I got rejected by, you know, some of these other people and you've got to just expect that because that's just how it is. And so I had to figure out okay, with Michael Jordan and Serena, what is it about them? Because first I had said, okay, what is it about them that was their essence, you know, that I thought, you know, that no one ever really talks about but really gets to the heart of what their thing is, you know what I'm saying? And so, and I knew that I could weave together a little story about that and in a period of two minutes. You know, I didn't need a whole film to really get to that, but you find that and then kind of figure out where it belongs in this in the overall story. And so that was kind of an interesting process to like, is really kind of understanding those guys and figure out how to use archival footage and other sound that I acquired to kind of tell a mini story about that athlete, you know.

L: Was there times where you got frustrated with the process, Gabe, and this creative process? Where it doesn't seem to be coming together, it doesn't look the way you, because you talk moment to moment and each moment needed to be great. And I love how you said that. Were you getting frustrated at times? And how'd you work through it?

G: Yeah. I mean, many, many times. Documentary filmmaking is just constantly frustrating and very tedious. And, you know, it's a lot like writing, you know, where it's slow and kind of,  it's just hard, you know. And then from the beginning, you got to have that kind of like ultimate vision, you know, where you kind of you just know it's gonna be great and you just know you've got all the goods, you've got everything, you know what I'm saying? And that it's gonna get there. Because you've got to, just like an athlete, you've got to really trust yourself that you have that ability, it will get there you've just got to keep working at it a little bit, one at a time. And you know, and you get so frustrated you want to you know, I don't want to say quit, but pretty close to that, or you know, you're frustrated with an editor and you got to find someone else. Oh God, I got to go and do that and do that, you know, every documentary that I've made has been, you know, incredibly frustrating and difficult. However, when you're, you know, there's nothing better when things start to work and then you're you're starting this is good. I know this is good. It's fucking great. And then but, and then it gets better than the and then finally you're done. And you just feel proud of it. And then it's just there's no better feeling. That's saying look, I made a great film, you know, like, it's just, it's there. Boom. You know? But, yeah, it's very, very frustrating, very frustrating. 

J: I think what you've just described there is you, it's almost like you could be talking about a tennis player who's playing a match or an athlete or in practice, it's very frustrating and you've got your trial and error, you keep plugging away and you try different things. But on the back end of it, you know, over the long course you keep persevering and go through that you're going to come out better for it right? Because you've learned things along the way, and you know, I think it was David Epstein that you captured calling it this master to rage, you know, this rage to master sorry, and being able to have that rage to master but also to learn quickly and being able to spin those two off each other. Now, if you've got a rage to master, you're thinking that yeah, you're gonna go through a lot of frustrating times, because you're doing things probably very quickly, very efficiently. You know, so you could almost close your eyes and think you're talking about an athlete there in that, in your creative process.

G: Yeah. You watch that Michael Jordan doc, you know, and you see him kind of yelling at his teammates, and being frustrated and, you know, he wants to - he knew what it was going to take to have to win the championship, you know, and like and the same thing with like, the documentary that I'm trying to do. I mean, I don't want them to just sort of be good or something, you know, like, I want them, you know, you only have one shot - this is the film about greatness, and it's gonna be out there and it's got to be, you know, you got to keep going until it's you just can't be satisfied. You know, if it's just not the way you you think it could be powerful, you know. Anyways, but let me talk about limitations, too. I mean, I had a lot of limitations on this film, and some of them made it better and I had to be creative because of that, and maybe the film is better for that. You know? For a lot of reasons, you know, so

J: Like your limitation on this as Rocky Marciano's limitation on his wingspan. Well, Larry, if it's okay with you, I wanted to touch on the Williams a bit there, you kind of mentioned. You captured Michael Jordan so well, because what came out of that 10 part documentary on him with this Last Dance was essentially what you captured in your movie documentary about this chip on his shoulder, this finding a way to put himself in a domain that has to make him prove himself to the world and he wanted to do that through the most artistic way possible in his performance. With the Williams sisters, what I loved about what you portrayed in that was actually the great relationship that they had with their parents. You know, and probably around the time the Williams sisters were coming through, we probably saw a big shift of parent coaches in this country, coaching their own kids. You know, and that's where, you know, we know, and  you touched on in the movie as well about this early specialization, and I know David Epstein has written books about it. But this early specialization just took off, especially in tennis. And I think a lot of it too is parents spending a lot of time with their kids thinking that to get ahead, it has to be about quantity rather than the quality. But also didn't recognize that a big part of it was about the relationships that they had with their children was probably a much bigger contributing factor to that greatness in the long term, as opposed to just getting out there with their kids and putting them through the wringer. You know, was that something that stuck out to you, you know, was that the intention of how you portrayed that?

G: Well, there's a couple things with Serena. It kind of you know, that whole storyline. Well, the first thing is I didn't really know personally a lot about it her story. But when I started watching some stuff about like with her father and Venus and their house, so what they're doing, the father, to me, appeared to be actually incredibly creative and kind of strange in a way, you know, like, his drills. But there's kind of like a - and what I mean by that, like, you know, the way they were throwing their racquets and playing tennis with a baseball bat -  I mean, all that stuff made total sense to me. And I thought, yeah, that guy is really like, knows what he's talking about. But he's, you know, he's got this like, silly way about him and kind of, you know, he doesn't talk like a Harvard intellectual, but he's like, really, you know, interesting and has common sense. And so I found that to be really interesting, and true, and great. And so he was sort of seeing things in the game that were like, you know, simple, but really unusual, you know, in my opinion. So that and I feel like I saw some things where he wanted them to kind of, you know, experience different things, not travel all the time for tennis tournaments, and kind of like do their own thing, which I thought was good and important, you know, to give time. You know, it's about developing, developing the person, the athlete. I don't know a lot of other things about him, so this is just what I saw. And then the thing that really I focused on what Serena story is this idea that you know, her sister Venus was really getting a lot of attention, and if we watched Serena's play, I think it's a lot like Michael Jordan, where just psychologically she kind of wanted to prove herself and show that she's the best., You know the same thing with Michael Jordan like this competition with their siblings, like Jordan had it too with his brother Larry. It just like it put the seed in there of maniacal domination and competition, you know, inside of them. This almost anger and you see that force of energy on the court or basketball or tennis you know, and that's really what is them. Now they produce beautiful creative expressions on the courts, but it almost comes from this anger, you know, like you know what I'm saying, that fuels that beauty. So that's an interesting thing. 

L: Yeah, I think that's a very interesting thing. And certainly, Johnny McEnroe was also in the documentary, a small part, and his creative expression. And I think one of the things that you bring up in this is that it's hard to coach these creative people, right? It's a challenge, a real challenge to coach them, to always be around them, because they're, you talked about how or they talked about how they're asking why, they're challenging the status quo, they want to know why they're doing things, how it could be done differently. So it's the kid that's coming up to you and saying, hey, would you ever think about doing the drill this way? Or maybe we could do it? And how is the coach going to respond to that in that moment, right. No, this is what I learned from the coach that I work with, so therefore, this is how we do it, or do you open your mind to wow, maybe there is another way to look at this? Because the greatest aren't just willing to just say, well, okay, you told me that's what it is. So that's just what I'll do.

G: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You're totally right, Larry. I mean, I'm just thinking back to my own personal experience. I mean, it's important that coaches don't just shut those athletes down that are asking a lot of questions, that are showing kind of promise and talent, but yet they're a little bit difficult. You know, I think, because then you know, then you sort of, what you can do, then you start to make that talented athlete, like, lose the love of the game and leave the game, possibly, you know. So, I think, as you see in the movie, you know, those coaches that achieved a lot of success are the ones that are very open minded and kind of not threatened, not feel threatened, you know? So it's just having that dialogue, not everyone's going to be easy or follow orders so easily, but just, that's part of coaching is really understanding that everybody's needs are a little bit different. And kinda be more open minded, don't be threatened. There's other ways of thinking about it. Because a lot of coaches, they weren't necessarily the greatest tennis players ever or whatever, but that you know, but neither was Walter Gretzky, you know or Wayne Gretzky's coaches you know, but they did understand that there's a level of freedom and kind of that freedom is like kind of the real the seed of greatness and without that, if you're restrictive, too restrictive and too threatened, then you're never gonna produce anything great you know. Because as you guys know, like, you gotta gamble a little bit, you got to take risks if you're gonna be great at anything and if you never take risks, you're never gonna. Yeah.

L: And that's why, Gabe, I'm getting a thought here. Maybe that's why, you know, a Richard Williams or some of these parent coaches have worked out, because they're individualizing on such a detailed level to their child. And yet what you just said, they don't get too restrictive, right? Because Richard was creative and did different things and wanted them to have a whole life. And so there's this, you know, if as a parent coach, you have the advantage of knowing your child, but it also can be a disadvantage. If you restrict them too much, you over-coach it, you try to do things for them, you try to deflect blame, all these things we hear about. So you do have the advantage of knowing them, but sometimes that actually becomes a disadvantage.

G: Yeah, then I think it's also just like, really dangerous, as we all know, like family businesses and stuff like, like, you know, work and play and family. It's all blending together, and that gets, that's super complicated. I wouldn't want to do that. You know,

L: I would neither. So you're talking about these family relationships. And, you know, Walter knew he needed to hand Wayne off at some point, right? That's what Wayne was saying. And yet we also see a lot of people not doing that these days - saying, well, I know my child best, so I'm going to stay with them. And, you know, based on your...

G: Let me be clear about that, Larry about that Walter Gretzky. So he actually, I don't believe he ever really like coached Wayne, you know, like on a team or. But he did, he gave him advice every now and again and Wayne just loved the game so much. But you know, ultimately Wayne was being coached by other people, but he did go to all the games and stuff, which I thought was kind of unusual because, you know, my parents didn't go to every game I ever played in and traveled, you know what I'm saying? A lot of, well, I guess that's not unusual for a lot of parents, but

L: It's not, but it seems likem so if we get this correct then, like Wayne's father was involved, but he was allowing Wayne to express creativity and be free. There was

G: He never said, oh, you got to do.. yeah, exactly. L: I'm sorry. Go ahead. G: He never said you have to. Yeah, he encouraged his freedom. He never said, Oh, you have to be a different player Wayne. You've got to you got to, you know, check more and whatever, you know, go ahead. Sorry I interrupted. 

L: I was going to say one of the thoughts that's coming to mind is that there's structure within the unstructured. So that I'm gonna not get in the way of this free time to allow this young person to explore go through trial and error and create, because I think I know "the way," right? Which I think we have to be careful of as adults who work in sport who, 'well, I've seen it many times, I know the way,' but that smacks again everything that's in the film. Mm hmm. That holds you back. And one of the most poignant parts of the film, maybe I'm jumping ahead too much, but that really got me is towards the end. And maybe it was Ken Robinson when he said how many people have gotten lost in the system who weren't able to express their creativity because they weren't in the right environment? That one just knocked right across the jaw.

J: And then they were talking about having, you know, favorable conditions. You know, that got me too Larry, because you're going, yeah, I mean, if people are giving similar experiences, it's fun, not too structured too early, they're able to explore their creativity, they're able to just, you know, work on many different elements that go into being a creative person like problem solving and decision making, and they're given so many opportunities with that, and they're in an environment that allows them to learn the fundamentals really well. And then explore that creativity, then yeah, how many? How many people would get lost in that? And you would think that, knowing that how highly structured everything is, there's got to be a lot. I mean, there has to be.

G: Yeah, a lot. I mean, you guys have to see this all the time. You know, I mean, just all the time, we all experience it. I anyone who goes through competitive sports sees it, right in front of them all the time.

J: Yeah, some of the I mean, Larry, you maybe speak a little bit to this, some of the I mean, something I harp on a lot with our staff internally, and then also, when I talk to parents and coaches externally, is like, the thing that we're looking for the most is the things that you can't see and the things that you can't measure. And that's what's going on between the brain. Well you perhaps could see it in the way that they compete and though the way that they want to play. But we should be looking at the level in which they make decisions and how they solve problems based off multiple options that are presented to them, they explore different decisions, they make errors, they learn from those errors, then they go and explore another option, and then they problem solve that situation, and then they do it with creative solutions. Those are the things that I personally look for, because I think similarly to how you maybe, you know, you kind of have this sounds like, I mean, again, it's not a bad thing, right? You have this kind of obsession towards providing and looking into creativity. I mean, ultimately, how do you explain a lot of things that don't make sense? How do you explain the fact that Tom Brady, you know, awful at every single physical test, but he's the greatest quarterback of all time and his vision, the way he sees things, the way that he problem solves, and those solutions he creates to make that happen? And I just think we, I think we're living in a world where we undervalue the importance of that first of all, but then second of all, because we've moved away from that sport or anything is about the art in what we do, we're not even looking for any more. And that goes back, yeah. And then Amy, you know, Amy, you've mentioned that there, and it goes back to how much they love it. And the environment they're in that has helped them explore that love for the game. But sorry, that was my little rant.

G: Yeah, there's a lot there that you just said, you know,

L: I think that you, you know, if we summarize that a little bit, you have to have this passion for it and this rage to master and you have to have the right environment where you can express yourself, be free to try things, to go through this experimentation of excellence, of greatness that you're working towards. And then you need people around you to support it, right? And you need to help to do this. You know, again, how important was Bill Walsh or Glenn Sather, or other people who you know, weren't even mentioned. But just there's a number of things that have to come together I think to do this and what I found really interesting then at the end was where, and I think I've said this too, where Wayne has said well, the great ones will find a way. But didn't we and this is not to go against Wayne, because I absolutely you know, J: He's your hero Larry. L: Well, he is a hero. He did beat my Flyers many times, but he is a hero. But there's a cognitive dissonance there, isn't there, of 'I would have found a way no matter what, but boy, I got lucky.'

G: Yeah, well that is that - I really love that ending too. And I just like when I saw that, like what you're saying you call it cognitive dissonance, but I call like almost paradox and he couldn't - Yeah, I don't think he knew he was getting tongue tied and he couldn't quite get his head around it. You know what I'm saying? Because yeah, that's the whole thing about greatness -  you did it, youdid it, but then all he did was he literally named three lucky things that happened to him in order for him to achieve that success. But then yeah, it's hard to because it's hard to live with yourself if you feel like it was all luck too, right?

J: Yeah, like if it like if one of those things don't happen, I wouldn't be as great as I am. But then it will come back to well, no, I'm great because I am me. I am who I am. And I would have found a way. It was just

G: Yeah, but Michael Jordan even said, I've heard him say that timing is everything and you know, I mean, it's hard to believe a guy like Michael Jordan didn't have control because he was just so ferocious. You know what I'm saying? Like, I don't know he is one of those athletes that just, I don't know, like could will anything. There's something about his like his will that is beyond a even comprehension. Maybe a lot of people, other people have it but they kind of hide it, but on him it's just like on his face and you know what I'm saying?

L: Yeah I do and I remember watching all those series and him trying to overcome the Pistons and that's part of this - as we look back, we remember the championships, but that will didn't always lead to the championship and he didn't win every year. So this adversity you go through, the struggle that you go through, and I think that, you know, too many times we like to - I'm not saying that this about you Gabe, because you point this out greatly in your documentary - but we like to live in the black and white like, well, this is the way. It's either this or this, you do this, you don't do that. Which with these great performers, there is no formula. And you point this out in the documentary, there was a kind of factors coming together. You had this talent, this rage to master, this passion, with a great environment to let them express themselves and find the right coach at the right time. You know, Gretzky had Yari Curry and Glen Anderson and Paul Coffee and you can go down the list -  Messier, I can't forget Messier - and then, you know, MJ he had Pippin and a number of other great players as well: Rodman, Kerr, you can go down the list. So we don't want to give people the wrong impression here that they found the way, but boy, they had a lot of help along the way too. That's one of the things that I was struck with.

G: Yeah,

J: So it's like people that are able to compliment them too in order to let them express their freedom. They need that person that they can play alongside that actually accentuates that freedom.

G: Yeah, absolutely. That's the thing about team sports, a little bit different from tennis is that, you know, there's such collective creativity that needs to happen, and you need to kind of be on the same wavelength, that same kind of, that chemistry, you know what I'm saying, has to be there. You know, because if Jordan didn't have those other guys on his team, you know, he probably he would have won maybe less championships, right? And then he would not be considered the greatest of all time. You know, he's still Michael Jordan, but you know what I'm saying, but with tennis, it's a little bit different, right, guys?

L: You know, it is 

G: There's more, what is it called, self-determination because it's just you against the other guy and there's no subjectivity. You beat them any way you can, right?

L: Yeah. And I think that's what draws a lot of the players to pro tennis. Or to playing tennis, those great athletes. Yeah.

J: And I think it's probably says even more so for for the environment, right. So like the environment that the athlete is in on a daily basis or the people that are around them in the environment on a daily basis, because I think like from what you know, your movie showed was that they are individuals. They're individual in their mindsets, for sure. I mean, you know, great athletes, great players, they are have a singular focus in how they want to play and how great they are understanding that that's in the context of a team. But I don't think that changes across sports. I mean, great people always find a way to be great, as Wayne said. But I think when it comes to tennis, it probably promotes more of that - how the type of people and in coaching and the environment they're around on a daily basis, and obviously in a team sport the people around you, your teammates, the people that have a big influence on you, you don't necessarily have teammates that can have either a positive or negative influence on you, so, probably stresses even more the importance of the type of coaches that you have around you in that environment to, again, promote and accentuate the creativity and the problem solving and decision making. And I guess it could be easier in an individual sport to take that away because the emphasis is always on them. They're the individual, that's the person that they're helping. And I guess it could be easier to box someone in in an individual sport, maybe I could be wrong.

G: But also, I mean, like, just think about this is important to really understand is that you know, like, for instance, like I grew up, the town where I grew up, people love hockey. Like that was the main sport. And I loved it, yeah, but that was also like, it's because everyone else is playing same thing. Like Michael Jordan, maybe if his brother wasn't playing basketball, maybe it'd be another sport or Gretzky if he didn't live in Canada, you what what I'm saying, he wouldn't be Wayne Gretzky. So there's a million, billions variables that we - basically what I'm saying is we've got to just accept that it is a little bit, there has to be a level of like acceptance that like, you know, things need to come together. You're not going to force this stuff, you know. Yeah, you kind of try and create, like joyful experiences that could lead to passions, you know, that's what it's all about. You know, and exposure and passions and joy and, you know what I'm saying, not forcing into something that it's - forcing, like the film says, just never works. It's like the Zen or Taoist philosophy, you know, the more you force, the further away it'll get. You know, you can't swim against the current, you know, like, it'll take you where it's gonna take you in that sense. And I know it's an uncomfortable thing for a lot of like professionals too, because we make, you know I'm saying? 

L: Mm hmm. It is because we again, we kind of base our work on being able come up with a structure that creates excellence, right? I'm not going to say greatness, but excellence in this sense. But uh, some of that's just outside of our control. A lot of you know, and that's what you see with these great ones where they were kind of, they were going to do their thing and they were put in a right environment. I do and  when we talked to you last time, Gabe, this really got me fired up and I wanted to talk about this and get this in before we finish. I have a belief that, and I've heard this before, that the great ones, the champions, they adapt to overcome the best. So if you look at the top three - and you could even include Andy Murray when he was in that conversation that top four - Roger was dominating and no one could touch him for years. He was winning everything. And then Rafa comes along, and Rafa becomes his main rival and not just on the clay, but on all the surfaces. And when Rafa takes Wimbledon, it kind of sends a notice that okay, now we've got a top two. And then Novak starts to come in, but Novak's not able to crack that for a while and then he starts winning. And I really think that the best are also looking at who they've got to pass, and they're finding whatever way they can to adapt to figure out how to get that done. With Wayne, it was the Islanders, right? Because they were winning all the Cups, and they wanted to be champions. How do we overcome the Islanders? You know, so it's interesting, and I think, let's hear what your thoughts are. I think that the greatest, they're not looking behind them, they're looking ahead and figuring out what I have to do to overcome the best.

G: Yeah, I mean, I think that's just, personally just an amazing example of just it seemed almost unfathomable that Federer or whatever be eclipsed and you know, just never ever. He was like Gretzky you know, and the fact that it just happened so quickly that these, you know, the other guys figured out their own way. It was almost unfathomable, it was impossible. And they all have such unique, as we're discussing, such unique playing abilities, such a unique characteristics, you know, and it just shows that yeah, that there's so many ways of playing and the physical builds they're, you know, they're all different. It just shows that it's a really great example to show that not nothing is fixed, you know? And really, there's different ways of playing the game.

J: Well and not to settle with just being you know, good, but strive for greatness. Like you could have sat back and go well, I'm just playing in a tough era; Roger Federer is the best of all time and had I played in another era then maybe I would have got some more Grand Slams. But Rafa and Novak definitely weren't thinking that, you know, they're thinking of ways of overcoming, as Larry said, that ability to adapt. And you know, Andy Murray did the same; like he didn't just settle with competing in this era, he found a way to win Grand Slams in the toughest era there's probably been at the top of the game. And that mindset is ferocious. And I think in a way, I mean, maybe this could be a next movie here Gabe, but in a way that is fascinating to see so many people at the top of the game in one era playing at the same time that are constantly elevating, elevating, elevating. Not just over the course of a few years, I mean, we're talking over the course of 10, 12 years here like a lot. That's that sustained, committment to excellence, I guess and that sustained commitment to overcoming new changes, to new levels that are being presented, and it is just, I think, as you said, it's just incredible.] But maybe you can get in touch with them for the next one.

L: Good idea. You know, the only thing I think of relate to that would be like when you had Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, going at it back in the 80s. Or, you know, Wayne and Mario kind of overlap, but not playing in the Stanley Cup Finals kind of way. But you don't get to see this very often where the best are going up against the best in this sort of echelon of greatness and then are working off of each other.

G: Yeah. It's really, really impressive and interesting.

J: Yeah. Well, Larry, I think we're running a little short on time here. I just want to make sure you get everything you want in. We could go another hour or two hours.

L: We need another hour.

J: There is an email that I do want to read you before we wrap up here, but maybe just see if Larry has any more questions for you.

L: I think maybe, you know, just one more and that is Gabe, you know, from all that you've learned and you've gone through in your own experiences, about creativity and searching for greatness, what kind of advice can you give to parents, to coaches of tennis players, to tennis players that might help them? I know, this has been a pretty complex discussion, but if maybe we can hone it down to a couple things that they would find really helpful to them.

G: I think both for coaches and players, like what drives the whole thing is like this sort of love or, you know, my film shows that it becomes almost an obsessive thing with these players. You know, I don't know if it's a psychological illness or something, you know, it almost turns into an illness because they love it so much and they become obsessed. But like, if you just focus on what about the games, that you really love about the game, you know, and try and bring out the love about the game; the coaches bringing it out, and kind of what is interesting about it, you know. Like, that's what it's all about, like, you know, then everything else kind of falls in place, you know what I'm saying? And if they become great, I mean, you know, that's up to them. I mean, you know, how much you practice and what you're learning and exposure to different things. Yeah, we, the rest, we all kind of, we know the rest, to a degree, you know, and then being being open minded and creative, because that's going to bring new elements to play and sort of respecting individual differences. Yeah, kind of encouraging experimentation.

L: Now that's great. Yeah, that freedom to play and explore and, you know, having a lot of unstructure within the structure, you know, because life has changed and not sure it's going back especially as a pandemic's going on where people's you know, lives are being structured for them in some way. So the more that our children can be given some time to play and be free to explore. And that may be even within the structured right, you know, bringing them to hockey practice and just letting them create on the ice. That's not wasting your money. I promise you, parents. We're not going through another, you know, drill, you know, where we're skating around the circles, but, you know, we're creating and there's got to be some support of that in this hole situation.

G: You also don't want, if you're too structured, you're kind of doing that over and over and going to camps, and tennis non stop, you're around, you burn out, you know, and so you can't burn out. I mean, that's a serious thing. And any of the greatest athletes know how to step away and when to step away and how to just not burn out, you know?

L: Well Rice mentioned that, that he would spend time with his family, but then when they went to bed, he was thinking about his football again.

G: Yeah, that's true. Is that kind of a contradicting thing that?

L: I'm supporting what you're saying, but I think that rage is burning within and you can't turn it off. Sort of who you are. You just have to learn to manage it right? Yeah, you have, as you can't, like you say if you if you go down such a road that, you know, you're always going to the next camp, or always performing, you know, giving yourself a break. I mean, Wayne loved hockey but he also loved baseball. So he would put the sticks away and play baseball all summer, right? So you have to find a way this, whether you talk about like a runner's high, that's what when you talk about this, it makes me remember like the research on runner's high where people get so obsessed with a feeling that they get from running, that it ends up being this negative obsession, right? That's unhealthy. There may be a part of this that's obsessive. And so then looking at the whole person, you've got to find a way to manage it so that it doesn't affect the relationships, because it often does. 

G: Yeah. I mean, we all know this in anything we do, we just, you know, I think if you like what you're doing, you kind of naturally become obsessed or obsessive in a way, and you've got to kind of, you start to realize that there's other things in the world out there that you could get into too. And it's just sort of understanding your balance and what's healthy for you, you know. Because also, what this film is, is a lot about mental health as well. That's something I don't really talk about often. But I do believe that, you know, principles in the film and finding joy and being open minded are just as important to mental health as anything else, you know, and finding kind of, if you're loving what you're doing, there's a good chance you're going to be mentally healthier, you know?

L: Absolutely. I agree 100% Gabe.

J: Well, you know, Gabe, this has been absolutely incredible. And again, really appreciate you taking the time. I mean, this incredible discussion, I wish we could do it for longer. But I just want to you know, we've been engaging a lot of the players that we connect with and the parents and the coaches and been promoting the movie, but we got a really lovely email back that I wanted to make sure we were able to tell you. And we have essentially like book clubs coming up with different groups as well like movie clubs and we're going to be discussing "In Search of Greatness" in a couple weeks with a big group of parents and players. But we got an email that said, "Thank you for the movie recommendation. I really enjoyed it and loved hearing all the personal stories. Among many things, I enjoyed the fact that our children must be the ones to be creative in order to ignite that passion they have for the sport. I do believe that too many of us can sometimes be managers of our child's schedule and what they want can sometimes get lost in the process. Sometimes I will ask players to have a Player's Choice drill during a session and it's always interesting to see that some could not be come up with something on their own, and they have to basically wait instruction." So a lot of things packaged in there, but I mean, it's great. And again, you I think you've addressed so many great things in the movie that a lot of parents, coaches, and players will be able to take with them and probably start questioning maybe some of the practices that they're using. And maybe start placing more value on the creativity and the decision making process in order to problem solve better, and encouraging that more. And it doesn't know always look like the same structure, and it doesn't fit everyone into the same mold, and you can manipulate the environment to account for individuals. And I think that your movie has certainly raised a lot of awareness, to many important factors going on in our society and in our culture at the minute. So I thank you for producing and directing something that I personally have massively enjoyed. I mean, one of my one of the best things I've watched in a long, long time and see Larry nodding there, I know he agrees. So I just want to take this opportunity from us to thank you for that.

L: Yes, thanks, Gabe.

G: Well, I really appreciate it guys and I've really enjoyed talking in this way about the film. And I'm just excited, I don't know how much power you guys have in the tennis world and sort of developing youth, but it'll be very exciting for me to see all the great work that you guys are doing kind of pay off whenever it does, because seems like you guys really have a very deep understanding of these principles. And, you know, I hope that other organizations you know, have similar leadership as you guys, you know, because it's pretty impressive that you know the connection you have, you know,

L: Thank you for that. We appreciate that. You should send that to our bosses, by the way.

G: Yeah, I will. Give me your email, or their email.

J: All right. Awesome. Awesome. Well, we're gonna make a wrap., but this will conclude this week's episode of Compete Like a Champion,. This has been an absolutely incredible journey over the past hour or so, diving into an incredible movie documentary around the greatest of all time. You can check it out on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and iTunes. You can also visit the "In Search of Greatness" website to check out more resources and information there. We'll make sure to put these links on the show notes as well. So Gabe, thank you again.

L: Yeah, well, I think Gabe are you still doing the Facebook Live interviews?

G: Yeah, we are doing that still, and so there's a lot of additional interviews on the Facebook page of, you know, a lot of greats in different sports and educational leaders, as well as business leaders. So there's a lot of interesting supplementary stuff there.

L: Yeah. So I just encourage people to "In Search of Greatness" on Facebook as well. A lot of the new stuff. Still new stuff coming out from your interviews that you're doing Gabe, so that's great stuff.

G: Thanks a lot.

J: Brilliant. All righty. Well, that's a wrap for this week's episode. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, Dr. Larry, Gabe, and Amy, we're checking out.