Are you a top player or a bottom player – and why? 1

Every team has its irreplaceable guys – and its expendable guys. But they aren’t all that different in the best leagues.

At the professional level, all players are skilled, superbly gifted athletes; they’ve all put in many years and thousands of hours at their sport; and they’re all supremely competitive. So why do some dominate the play while others dominate the bench?

Matt Cullen (of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild) puts it this way: “I think the majority of the challenges in the NHL are mental over the course of a season. The line between the top players and the bottom players is, more often than not, a mental line. And it’s a very small line.

A mental line – rather than physical skills, size, speed, and all that stuff that coaches spend so much time drilling their players on. Not that the physical skills don’t matter (they do), but you have to think that if every player played with the fire that Crosby did before his injury, or that van Persie has showed this season – or that Messi shows every year – then you’d have a lot more stars worth charting.

The mental edge – so delicate. It’s why hockey players like Ovechkin and soccer players like Torres can go from superstar status to seemingly dropping off the face of the earth. It’s why teams like the Maple Leafs, with a subtle loss of confidence in their goaltending, can begin misplaying things all over the ice; and why Arsenal (though now looking like salvaging their season) could have got off to such an abysmal start after losing Fabregas and Nasri.

Yep – Matt Cullen has stated an obvious but so often ignored fact. With insight like this, Cullen will make a good coach once he hangs ’em up.

"So - tell me about your childhood, Fernando."

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