A great king from ancient times had been given a beautiful cat. He quickly grew to love his cat and was never seen without it. His cat was treated like royalty by everyone. Knowing that he would likely outlive the cat, the great king commissioned the very best artist in the land to paint him a portrait of his treasured feline friend that would last his lifetime.

So the great king found and visited a great artist.

“Paint me a portrait of my beloved cat that will last for the ages!” ordered the king. The artist agreed, of course, and set about studying the cat in great detail. After a long while, the king grew restless.

“When will my painting be completed?” he asked the painter. The painter thought for a second and said, “In about a week.” “Good,” said the king, and he set off back to his castle.

After a week had passed, he went back to the artist, but the portrait of his cherished cat was not ready. In fact, the artist had not even started.

“Give me another two weeks, my king. And I will have your portrait ready for you.” The king agreed and went on his way. When two weeks had passed, the king went back, but still there was no progress at all. “My apologies, oh great king. If you come back in one month, your painting will be done, most assuredly.”

The king huffed a little, but agreed. Upon his return a month later, the great king was astonished to see that still no progress had been made. The talented artist had not even started the portrait.

Infuriated, the king demanded an explanation, and began to threaten harsh consequences. The artist quickly grabbed his brush and began to paint. Before the king could finish his tirade, the artist had painted him the most stunning and beautiful painting of his beloved cat that the great king could ever have imagined. The king was astonished. The portrait that the artist had created in only a few minutes was so beautiful, it brought the king to tears.

A lot of people view talented sports field managers as some kind of alchemists. They often call them “magicians” when they prepare a picture-perfect field playing surface. A talented and experienced sports field manager is often seen as an artist to the players, coaches and fans of big-league ball clubs.

In the media, phrases like “grass guru” and “sod god” and their various iterations are used in side-stories about the hallowed team’s groundskeeper. They often will ask, “What’s your secret for such immaculate grass?” like it’s some kind of hush-hush juice we spray on it.

They really have few clues about what goes into the art and science of sports field management, nor should they. The game is not about the field, and our sports media increasingly tell stories about people, not concepts or events. The gifted magician draws in viewers and readers better than the art and science of sports field management. Great talent is misperceived in our culture. We talk about “gifted” athletes like their skills were randomly bestowed upon them by luck of the draw, or some higher force. We talk about the “natural athlete,” talent granted by nature. Great entrepreneurs and highly successful business people are similarly described as “born leaders” who came into this world already equipped to lead.

Back to our fable. The great king was incredulous. He turned to the artist, rubbing away the last tears. “I don’t understand. You kept putting off painting my beloved cat, asking for longer and longer delays, having shown no progress at all. Then, when I get angry, you create this beautiful piece in just a few minutes. Why would you forsake your great king like that?!”

The artist walked wordlessly over to the door of a large room. He opened the door and revealed to the great king 10,000 practice paintings of his beloved cat.

Great talent looks a lot like hard, focused practice.

What’s in your practice room?