Giant Killing 23 – The Limits of Talent
Natsuki’s basic conflict in this episode is one that is universal to athletes: “Just how good am I, really?”
Every athlete has a limit, a ceiling to his or her talents. Some athletes have higher ceilings than others for various reasons (more naturally talented, more competitive, more willing to put in hard work, etc.), and once an athlete passes a certain point, the ceiling starts to get lower (as Sugie and Kuroda have found). Natsuki is a young guy, so he is pushing the upper limits of his talent . . . but Tatsumi’s talk with Natsuki before the game against Osaka brings one doubt to the forefront of Natsuki’s mind: “Am I really as good as I believe I am?”
Confidence is imperative for a competitive athlete, whether that confidence is in one’s never-wavering belief that he or she is the best on the field at all times, or if the athlete simply knows and accepts the limits of his or her talent and maximizes what is there. (That second example is much more relevant to team sports than individual sports, haha.) Natsuki has trouble because he’s not certain if his ceiling is lower than he believes it is, and also because if it is in fact lower than he believes, then can he really contribute to the team to a level he can accept for himself?
Emperor J brought up one possibility in last week’s post: Maybe Natsuki is just one of those players who excels when there is no pressure on him. He clearly has talent; this much is obvious just by watching Natsuki play. But as has been proven innumerable times, talent can take an athlete only so far. There must be something else present — a strong will, the guts to stand up under unbelievable pressure and raise one’s game to the highest possible level in the most crucial moment. Before the Osaka game, Natsuki does not look like that at all . . . he looks scared to death, scared that his own talent won’t be able to carry him through the game, and that he is destined to let the team down.
But I will say that feeling that fear doesn’t necessarily mean that Natsuki will always wilt under the pressure. Plenty of great athletes have felt some level of fear before a big game . . . only unstoppable confidence or an insane amount of bravado would make anyone feel otherwise, I bet. The trick is, of course, to not let that fear consume you, and that’s where the good players are separated from the great players. Is Natsuki satisfied with being someone who can score only when there is no pressure to do so? Is he OK with being a player who cannot be counted on when ETU absolutely needs a goal no matter what?
Clearly Natsuki is not satisfied with this fate, but going about changing this is what gives him so much confusion. He knows one way to play — score, score and score some more. That’s what Natsuki does: He takes the set-ups, and he finishes off the plays with goals. It’s probably safe to say Natsuki is not one of those ultra-special, gamechanging type of legendary players. But there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Only very few people can be that special; everyone else just needs that talent that will allow them to fit in on a team. Natsuki’s talent is scoring from crazy angles. He knows it; he is just having trouble reconciling fitting into the team but also having the “selfish guts” that Tatsumi talks about on the sideline.
Natsuki is not a leader. He’s not a player who can dominate the ball and create scoring chances through pure magic. He’s not the fastest guy on the field. He’s simply a guy who can get free, find a place to shoot the ball and let it fly once someone passes to him. And that’s not a bad fate for a player, nor is it really a waste of Natsuki’s talent — he has to be comfortable with his role on the team (which his talents have dictated), accept those expectations and execute. Finding out your talent has a limit does not have to be a bad experience.