Buster Posey, for one, seemed composed from the first time he picked up a baseball, or no less significantly picked up a team.
Same thing as the good people in San Francisco will verify, for Joe Montana, or in the vernacular of success, “Joe Cool.”
Others are not as gifted. They must adapt. They must develop. Johnny Miller, who came from out on the Avenues and The City’s Lincoln High School to win a U.S. Open golf championship and then become a forthright TV commentator for NBC, used to talk about “choking levels.”
A golfer had to be able to make the cut before he could compete, had to be able to compete before he or she could win.
Andy Roddick, who won another type of U.S. Open, the tennis one, made it through the third round of the BNP Paribas Open down here in the California desert east of Palm Springs and then made it through a line of questioning about how an athlete keeps his composure.
The individual in focus was an 18-year-old from Louisiana, Ryan Harrison, who some, maybe prematurely, are describing as America’s next great tennis hope.
Late-afternoon Tuesday, Harrison showed courage and more than a modicum of composure in a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory over 21-year-old Milos Raconic of Canada, who five weeks ago won the SAP Open in San Jose.
Then a short while later — in the ... well, you can’t say cool of the evening when it’s 80 degrees — Roddick defeated a bewildered John Isner 7-5, 6-2, who, despite all the talk of his potential, showed no composure and very little game.
Roddick, now 28, won his Open in 2003 and was a Wimbledon finalist in 2004, 2005 and 2009, losing each time to Roger Federer, who Harrison had the misfortune of facing here Wednesday night.
Andy, quick-witted and sharp-tongued, was more willing to discuss Harrison than himself.
“We’ve talked a lot the last couple of weeks about him staying the course,” Roddick said regarding Harrison, “and not losing his composure too much. I hope he learns that lesson quicker than I did.”
Andy can be self-deprecating and brutally candid, although when he follows the previous remark with, “I consider myself a very fast learner, now,” it’s a bit unnerving.
“You could find 20 people who have been successful across different sports,” Roddick said on how best to stay composed under pressure, “and I’m sure they got there in different ways. There is no set way. If there was a set way ... there’s no guarantee.”
For Federer, eventually winner of a record number of Grand Slam championships, the way was at age 19 to upset Pete Sampras, the defending titlist, the seven-time champ, in the fourth round of the 2001 Wimbledon.
“Suddenly,” recalled Federer, “you’re the guy who beat the guy. You have something to build on.”
Roddick said in his case it was an ability to “handle everything that came along.” He may have lost matches, but he rarely lost his poise.
“I think Ryan wants to be a good player,” Roddick said of the first requirement. “He competes. He’s passionate. That’s what you need to start with.”
But to finish, you need composure, innate or acquired. It’s a requirement for greatness.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.