Many athletes turn what they perceive as the unfairness of life into anger, and they put that anger into their training and their careers and become obsessive, according to psychologist Selwyn Liderman. There is a lot of anger which comes from childhood and is aimed at what is seen as the unfairness of life, he said.
It’s often an act of revenge against those people who were our early masters. It becomes part of our conscience. The most famous case, he said, was that of Ty Cobb, who at age 19 became enraged at the accidental shotgun death of his father by his mother. He took that anger, mostly aimed at his mother, and turned it outwards and he became one of the best baseball players of all time.
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Greg Louganis took up diving at age nine. Little wonder. It was the perfect vehicle to shield a painful upbringing, wrote Larry Reibstein in Newsweek. Louganis said that as a young boy his confidence was low for many reasons for starters, his parents were unmarried teens who gave him up for adoption soon after birth. After nine months in a foster home, he was adopted by an alcoholic father who was at the same time neglectful and overbearing, beating him when he wouldn’t dive off a nonregulation springboard. At school, children called him names because he was dark skinned and had dyslexia. Depressed, he became a drug user and attempted suicide at age 12. As a young man, he had a stormy relationship with a man who once raped him at knife-point. But in diving, Louganis could escape; he raised his confidence and skill levels to the point that he won both the platform and springboard gold medals in two Olympics.
Dan O’Brien was another adopted child, a poor student who turned to drinking to try to drown some of his problems. I was always a troublemaker as a kid, he said. I was always searching to find my niche in life, my group of people I felt I could fit in with. A lot of decathletes come from that type of background. Besides drinking, he found an outlet in track and field and went on to become one of the best decathletes of all time.
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