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Redefining potential

Sprinter leaving starting blocks on the running track (Credit: Berc via Fotolia.com)If you listen to people talk sports for long enough, or read enough sports articles, you’ll slowly come to realize that there are two ways to judge a particular player or team. You can either judge by intangible qualities, like character, toughness, and spirit, or you can judge by statistics. If you saw the baseball movie Moneyball, you are familiar with the new craze of measurable statistical analysis in sports.

But some sports fans still like to talk about the intangibles, and one of the most tossed-around words in this category of sports judgment is potential. A player’s potential is as marketable as their actual statistics, sometimes more so. Entire sports careers have existed based simply on that player’s perceived potential. He or she may routinely underachieve, but there are flashes here and there of great play, and those flashes sustain the hopes of fans until the next star comes along, with even more potential than the one before.

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The British Open, bunkers, and bogs

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland plays a shot out of the bunker on the second hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the final round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, July 22, 2012 (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)Golf is an incredibly demanding sport. It's hard enough, physically, to hit a tiny ball into a small cup several hundred yards away with trees, sand, or water in the way. But mentally it's even harder. It takes roughly 3 hours to finish the traditional 18 holes, and most of that time is spent in an internal war. You hit a good shot, and your confidence is high. But then you hit a bad shot and you question why you are paying so much to go through so much pain. Isn't this supposed to be fun? But then you hit another good shot and your confidence is back. It's this roller-coaster of emotion that makes golf such a challenging sport for both amateurs and pros.

This week the best male golfers in the world are playing the British Open.While there are 4 major tournaments each year, the British Open is unique among the majors because of the difficult conditions of the British courses. Watch for just five minutes (long enough, for some, to induce them into a nice nap!) and you'll see the difference in the British courses versus American courses. The British courses are much more wide open, with less trees. That means that the wind plays a much bigger role. Also, you'll notice vast swathes of tall, unkempt grass right next to the closely cropped fairways, along with 6-8 foot deep bunkers.

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Free agency and changed plans

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) smiles in the second half against the Charlotte Bobcats during Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff basketball series in Charlotte, North Carolina April 26, 2010 (Credit: Reuters / Jason Miczek)For the past few weeks, NBA free agent rumors have been dominating sports headlines. From the Dwight Howard saga to the Deron Williams decision, this summer has seen a flurry of activity. Teams like the Brooklyn Nets (some of you may be thinking I just invented a new team, but no, that's what the current New Jersey Nets will be called this season) made big splashes by signing multiple free agents and even participating in a blockbuster trade. The names change from year to year, but the process is pretty much the same. Teams have to weigh the long-term constraints of signing a player to a big contract, while the players have to decide where they want to play and if their decision will solely be based on money.

What particularly interests me about NBA free agency, though, is the way teams develop and carry out their plans. Every team, from the end of the season in June to the beginning of the process in July, develops plans that include how  much money they want to spend and who will be on their list of players to pursue. Those plans are vitally important, because when the official negotiation window opens and teams can start talking to players, trying to predict where players will land is like trying to predict where a bolt of lightning will strike in a storm.

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Elite athletes and spiritual poverty

Michael Phelps in the men's 400m individual medley final in 2008 Beijing Olympics (Credit: Reuters / David Gray)Right now, NBA free-agency is looming large on the American sports scene. Teams are wheeling and dealing trying to improve their teams’ chances of success, and the words “sources are reporting...” are being thrown around in an ever-swirling vortex of information. I’m going to write about free-agency more next week, but for now I wanted to bring up something that is often lost in the discussion: athletes’ health.

It is becoming increasingly prevalent for elite athletes to incur career threatening injuries. On all levels of sport, speed and skill are improving. Watch any NBA game and compare it to a game a decade or two ago and you’ll understand what I mean. But it’s not limited to basketball. Speed is a hot commodity in every sport. Just look at the average young golfer nowadays. Many of them look no different than any other chiseled athlete. All aspects of sport are being influenced by speed.

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Euro 2012 and slumping superstars

Cristiano Ronaldo during the friendly match Portugal-Argentina, in Geneva, February 9 2011 (Credit: Ludovic Peron via en.wikipedia.org)Most Americans don't watch soccer. Chances are, you haven't watched a minute of Euro 2012. Chances are you might not even know what Euro 2012 is , let alone that it is going on right now. Let me tell you, you're missing out.

Euro 2012 is the equivalent of the World Cup in Europe. It happens every four years, just like the World Cup, and features some of the best teams in the world: France, England, Spain, Portugal, Germany, among others.

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