HBO is running the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, multiple times; a movie I love on multiple levels. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. Aside from a great cast, it’s beautifully written and well-acted. It’s based on the book of the same name which is based on the true story of Josh Waitzkin who came to chess acclaim at age seven. Unlike many child prodigies, he came to the game inadvertently as no one in his family nor anyone he knew at the time played chess. I don’t want to get into details in case someone does decide to watch, but this post deals with different aspects of becoming top in a field and how to view winning.
Josh’s father is a sports writer and his mother a stay-at-home mom (if the movie is accurate). Joseph Montagena plays the father and Joan Allen the mother. Juxtaposed with Josh is the street-wise guy who initially teaches him (played by Lawrence Fishburn) and the highly rated man who takes over as the professional instructor (played by Ben Kingsley). As Josh progresses, does the ability to win become so important that “winning is the only thing”? Does everything else have to take a lesser priority? Does the competition have to “be the enemy”? The mother grows increasingly worried that Josh will change too much in pursuit of what is clearly within his capability. The movie is interspersed with clips of Bobby Fischer and the impact winning had on him.
In one memorable scene between the mother and father, she questions the intensity of expectations. The father and Josh are huge baseball fans and in trying to get her point across, she asks the question, “How many players are afraid of losing their father’s love when they get up to bat?” “Everyone of them,” he counters before leaving the room.
I worked with a great guy who was cut from the Dallas Cowboys on the last day they could cut potential rookies. It was long enough ago for the Coach to have been Tom Landry and he provided a nice letter praising my friend’s spirit and talent. My friend said it was tough to get to that stage and not make it, but he also recognized how few players who have dreamed of the pros as children make it even that far.