Someone (usually a child or teenager) is discovered to have a natural athletic ability while doing something else. They usually assume they are in trouble when they are spotted and called out for it. Common examples include showing off how quickly they can run away (in a high school setting, expect it to be the class nerd becoming a good sprinter by being forced to outrun the school bullies.) They'll quickly be recruited to save the local team from failure.
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Anime and Manga
Sena in Eyeshield 21 is picked up as a runningback for the Deimon Devil Bats after Hiruma sees his running and dodging skills as Sena runs from the Ha-Ha Brothers.
Monta gets scouted as a receiver after he's seen leaping into the air to catch an errant ball.
Also Karin, who apparently developed a gentle, yet powerful throwing technique just by practicing piano and drawing manga.
The Ha-Ha Brothers were initially blackmailed into playing as linemen before they discovered their love for the game.
Unbelievably, Shin. He had no intention of playing any sports and only tried out for the White Knights because his friend Sakuraba asked him to.
Averted in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei where Fujiyoshi is asked to join a baseball team after hitting a home run, but says she's only there to do research for a manga.
In one Filler episode of Tokyo Mew Mew, Ichigo's secondary abilities from being a Catgirl, such as jumping high and landing on her feet, get her dragged onto the gymnastics team. Fanservice ensues when the recruiter forces her into a leotard.
In Samurai Champloo, Mugen is drafted into playing baseball against the Eagleland navy team after the Japanese organizer sees how fast he can run from the restaurant he failed to pay at, in addition to the fact that he can throw a baseball hard enough to knock down a wooden tower about a mile away.
Hajime No Ippo - After a timely rescue from bullies (well, maybe not that timely) by passing jogger Takamura, Ippo gets an impromptu Boxing Lesson just for fun: punch bag, feel better. Instead, he punches the bag nearly to the ceiling and splits all the skin on his knuckles. Turns out spending a childhood or two moving heavy fishing equipment will build muscle like nobody's business.
While the more common "running away skills" come into play, it's not until after he actually starts training.
This was sorta the case with Sendoh, too. He was well-known as a delinquent who stood up against bullies, and once his future coach heard about him he decided to fist fight Sendoh to try recruiting him for his gym. It worked.
In One Outs, Kojima discovers Tokuchi largely by chance.
This is how Kasuka Heiwajima got his start as a Teen Idol in Durarara!! — Originally, the talent scout was interested in recruiting his (ludicrously volatile and super strong) brother, Shizuo. Kasuka saved the poor guy from the resulting beatdown and was scouted in Shizuo's place.
Somewhat averted by Haruhi Suzumiya. She joins every club in the school proving herself to have incredible talent in athletics along with just about everything else. However, she refuses to stay in any of those clubs because they don't hold her interest.
Digimon Xros Wars has Taiki who has join many clubs in general, and in each of them he's able to pull them off like a pro.
Hanamichi Sakuragi of Slam Dunk, although he wasn't doing something else except blow off his top at hearing the word "Basketball". Haruko only notices his height and his build which is perfect for the sport. Skills-wise, though, he cannot play to save his life.
But he is a fast learner. Coach Anzai saw it too, and had Sakuragi master the basics. In no time, he became Shohoku High's starting power forward, slowly working his skills to become the team's rebounder and center under the basket when Akagi isn't around.
Played for laughs in Katteni Kaizo. Chitan is actually a god of soccer, and had he pursued this talent he could have rocked the planet, but he's only interest in trains, and his potential is wasted.
Eiichiro in Baby Steps. He very suddenly finds himself practicing tennis driven by a pushy mother, his own obsessive nature, and a crush on Natsu. Unique example in that he didn't have any apparent talents that made him fit for the sport, his own unique talents (his capacity for observation and his visual reaction speed) are discovered later on.
When Bashin runs down a track one episode of Battle Spirits Shonen Toppa Bashin to try and catch a runaway Aibou, beating all his school’s runners, all the sports teams try to recruit him. Of course, he has no interest in joining any team.
In Harlem Beat, Sakurai lined in a wrong queue, entered a streetball game and boom, he was hooked.
Onoda Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal. Imaizumi discovers his talent for cycling when he passes him on a difficult climb behind their school. Onoda was just cycling to Akibahara for to get his anime otaku merchandise.
Happens a lot in the Inazuma Eleven series. For example, surfer Tsunami shows that he has potential in soccer when the team accidentally kick a ball at him while he's surfing. He manages to defend himself, with powerful kick.
In "The Greatest Pitcher in the World!" in Superman #77, an amnesiac Superman, who is living as a hobo, is recruited as a baseball pitcher after he returns a fly ball and almost breaks the catcher's hand.
In Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #34, Peter Parker is recruited as a shortshop for his high school baseball team after he's seen using his super-powers to deftly catch and return a wayward ball. Team pitcher Flash Thomson is enraged because he suspects Parker's skills are due to illegal drugs, while the Green Goblin wants to eliminate Parker so his son's rival team can win instead.
One Archie Comics story has Archie and Betty walking by the football field while the team is practicing. Archie says that if they were in an old movie, a stray ball would fly in his direction and he'd kick it it fifty yards, thus earning him an instant spot on the team. To Archie's chagrin, when a stray football does make it their way, it's Betty who kicks it straight between the uprights. It seems that "they don't make old movies the way they used to."
One Peanuts strip has Charlie Brown recounting his fantasy of catching a wild foul ball while watching a baseball game, prompting the manager to declare, "Sign that kid up!" Linus responds that many millions of other kids have had the exact same daydream.
In the 2007 St Trinian's movie, Annabelle Fritton is recruited for the hockey team after she smashes a bust with a mobile phone she belted with a hockey stick.
Forrest Gump becomes a star running back while being chased through a high school football practice field by bullies. It helps that he's seen running by Paul "Bear" Bryant (who is there presumably on a scouting trip), universally considered to be one of the greatest American football coaches of all time.
Forrest Gump again with Ping Pong. "Keep your eye on the ball" indeed.
Also occurs in (at least) two Adam Sandler movies:
In Happy Gilmore, Happy's ice hockey skills unexpectedly transfer to playing golf, and
In The Waterboy, the title character is discovered to have unique tackling abilities.
Specifically in the latter, he is a college waterboy who gains incredible adrenaline-based tackling powers when anyone insults his beloved H20 or his beloved momma.
In The Blind Side, Michael Oher excels as a linesman only when he learns to tap his "protective instinct." After Oher's foster mother Leigh Anne Tuohy discovers his 98th percentile score on the 'protective instincts' category of an aptitude test, she understands how to extend his custodial nature to the gridiron.
Which was some Hollywood History on the film makers part, as Oher was a football player since at least Jr. High.
The Faculty has a mention of this—it's not the main plotline, but the football coach does mention Casey's athletic ability after seeing him run away from aliens.
In the first two movies of The Mighty Ducks series, a special-shot hockey player is found and recruited:
In The Mighty Ducks, Fulton Reed (who did not play hockey before at all) is recruited after slap-shotting a hockey puck into Gordon Bombay's van that he (well, technically, the driver assigned to him) began using to shuttle all the players around. He has to be taught how to ice skate.
In the 2nd movie, Russ Tyler was not an "accidental athlete". He was already a competent roller hockey player.
In Rookie of the Year, the twelve-year-old protagonist has his newly-found pitching ability discovered when, from about the middle of the stands, he throws back a home run ball hit by the opposition...and hits home plate.
He develops his cannon arm after the healing process from a broken arm.
The end of Jerry Maguire doesn't make this into a plot point, just into one last joke, when the kid turns out to have a wicked throwing arm when throwing a baseball back to a team that let it get away from them, and Jerry (a sports agent, if you haven't seen the movie) starts musing about training him up...
A similar scene happens with a woman in A League of Their Own, a movie about women's baseball during World War 2, only the girl is black and the team is all white, making an implied statement about who could play pro baseball and who couldn't.
Class Act: Duncan Pinderhughes ends up discovering that he has an uncanny ability to kick field goals, and joins the school's football team.
Subverted in Sudden Death. At one point, Darren Mc Cord actually has to pretend to be the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie to avoid the terrorists who have invaded the arena. He even makes a save.
The Garbage Picking, Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon is a movie about a garbageman who is spotted punting water jugs at the garbage dump and is quickly signed to the Philadelphia Eagles as a kicker.
In The Great Gildersleeve, Leroy accidentally hooks up a treadmill backwards and Throckmorton ends up running backwards on it. But he runs so fast that he challenges Judge Hooker to a backwards race.
In Goon, working as a bouncer, and being naturally tough, have made Doug the perfect hockey enforcer.
Lagaan: Who knew farming could prepare some people to play cricket?
In Mr. Hulot's Holiday, Hulot manages to beat everyone at tennis by copying the odd swinging motion of the salesperson who sold him his racket. This results in several bruised egos.
In Frankenstein: The College Years, the recently revived Frank is wandering near the football field when the ball lands near him. The throw he makes while trying to return it is so awesome that the football coach immediately recruits him.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Harry is picked as seeker for the Quidditch team after making a fifty-foot dive and a one-handed catch of Neville's Remembrall during his first time on a broomstick.
A similar incident to The Simpsons's example below occurs in the Gordon Korman novel The Chicken Doesn't Skate. The school's resident loser, constantly picked on by the Jerk Jocks of the hockey team, turns out to be a brilliant goalie because he has so much practice catching all the toys his toddler brother throws at his beloved computer.
Another Gordon Korman example: Rudy Miller from "I Want to Go Home!" At summer camp, he claims that he "doesn't do [insert sport here]" for half the book...until it's revealed that he's insanely good at everything athletic.
Rincewind may be an utter failure as a wizard, but he has become a champion sprinter from all the dangers he's had to run away from.
Zig-zagged with Trev Likely in Unseen Academicals: his skill at kicking a tin can around when he's supposed to be working in the University candle vats certainly attracts the attention of their nascent football team, but he insists he promised his mum not to play, although he agrees to help train them. Then when he does join the team, it turns out skill at kicking a can ("You've got the long spin and the short spin") doesn't equate to skill at kicking a round ball. But there turns out to be a way round that as well.
Also seen to some extent in Moving Pictures. Victor Tugelbend is so lazy that he's become incredibly athletic, because it's less effort than carrying around lots of fat. He's picked out to become a movie star because of this.
In Sword of Truth, Richard gets conscripted into a Ja'La team after he slaughters his way through a considerable number of soldiers in an almost-successful attempt to free himself.
To elaborate, it's not his fighting skills or athletics that get noticed so much as his strategy in weaving through a horde of foes towards a goal point; Ja'La being loosely analogous to American football.
In Choosing Up Sides, Luke wanders into the outfield of a baseball game, where he picks up a ball and hurls it about three hundred feet to home plate. Having been raised by a fundamentalist preacher who forbids sports, he's uncomfortable with the attention from everyone who wants him to pitch for the local team.
In Infinite Jest, the older brother in the family starts out playing tennis, and is really good at it, but in college, he tries out for the football team, only to find that he isn't big enough. As he is leaving the try-out, he punts a football, and the coach realizes he is a really good kicker.
Live Action TV
"Waikiki Hockey", a Saturday Night Live sketch parodying Elvis Presley movies, featured a busboy who became the starting center for the Waikiki Kings after being spotted clearing the table with a hockey stick-shaped piece of driftwood. It helped that the busboy was played by that Saturday's host, hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
An episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack has one of these, where Alex is sprinting down the hallway of her school attempting to avoid being late to class and getting in trouble. She is still late for class, but instead of getting chastised she is instead recruited for the track team.
In Glee, Kurt's dance skills unexpectedly earn him a spot as kicker on the school football team.
In Little House on the Prairie, when Pa is getting ready for a baseball game against a team from Sleepy Eye, he and Half-Pint are at Jebediah Mumfort's farm where they both witness Jebediah trying to hit a chicken hawk with a rock. He throws the rock so hard, it puts holes in the side of a barn. After this display, Pa convinces Jebediah to try out for Walnut Grove's baseball team. Of course, he's a natural and helps them win the big game despite all the cheating and poor sportsmanship of those evil people from Sleepy Eye.
Even Stevens: In "Head Games", it is discovered that Twitty has incredibly aim when he is enraged at Louis. He joins the baseball team as a pitcher, with a photo of Louis on the catcher's mitt.
In Everybody Hates Chris, the titular character is recruited by the basketball coach who sees Chris shooting a wad of a paper into a trash can. Alongside the fact that Chris must be able to play basketball, he has Chris join the team. Subverted when Chris fails horribly at the sport.
Josh from Drake & Josh is forced to join the high school football team after his brownies, poisoned by his prankster sister, gets one of the players sick.
Pixelface: In "Rex on the Bench", Rex becomes the mascot for a football team, and is forced to make a penalty shootout. Alexia is able to get him to score the winning goal by telling him not to break the goals as, every time he is told not break something, he immediately does.
Modern Family: In "A Fair to Remember'', Cam recruits Manny for his football team after he spots Manny charging his way through a crowd, shouldering people out of the way, in order to get to a cake-baking contest before it closes.
Wolfblood: In "The Call of the Wild", Rhydian is recruited to play goalkeeper for the school football team after he intercepts a wild kick in the playground.
In Phantom of Inferno (game only), Drei is discovered to have natural assassin abilities. Right after the hero pretends she does, no less.
Gamevil Pro Baseball: Medica and Psycher started out as this in 2008. Same for Luna the maid in 2012.
In Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable cheats his way into the quarterback position on the school football team, only to discover his 'mad running away skills' make him a natural running back after his deception is exposed.
In the Classic Disney ShortCasey Bats Again (a sequel to Casey at the Bat), Casey discovers his daughters form a natural girls' baseball team as they practice their skills while doing the dishes.
In The Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa compete in hockey, her talent as goalkeeper is discovered when Apu sees her block all the paper balls that Bart throws at her while taunting her.
In another episode, Bart discovers he is a natural ballet dancer while trying to remove his leotard.
Lisa also discovers a natural talent for gymnastics because of her big head.
And then, in the most implausible example yet, Homer is discovered to have the toughness necessary to succeed as a professional boxer when he blithely takes a beating from three other fathers who are angry that Bart ratted on their boys. Hell, The Simpsons seems to fall back on this trope often.
Homer also makes for a great opera singer while he's horizontal. Also a great painter. Both on the same episode.
Lisa discovers in one episode she has a natural talent for ballet when she gets angry at the instructor, who notices her never-before-mentioned "lecturing stance".
Rocket Power has Sam Dullard becoming a goalie this way as well. He and Reggie are having a casual conversation while Otto and the gang play street hockey. A wayward slapshot speeds in Sam's direction, and Otto, horrified at what will be an inevitably ugly collision, shouts "LOOK OUT, SAM!" Sam lifts his left hand and coolly deflects the puck WITHOUT EVER TAKING HIS EYES OFF REGGIE. Needless to say, the opportunistic Otto recruits Sam to play goalie for their team, which just happened to be a position they needed filled.
An episode of Family Guy has Peter running to the bathroom at a high-school reunion, knocking down with ease everyone in their path. Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, happens to see how well he fights off the people and puts him on the team.
In An Extremely Goofy Movie, the antagonists place Goofy on their skateboard team after they notice his expert ability to compensate for his own clumsiness, placing him against his own son Max in a skateboarding championship. Naturally, Max isn't concerned as he notes himself that his dad is the most athletically challenged person in the universe before Goofy quickly proceeds to be really really good (though he had a bit of help) and to the stunned amazement of pretty much everyone there instantly becomes a school hero.
Max's comment is extra funny when one remembers that most of Goofy's solo cartoons from back in the day revolved around Goofy's ineptitude at sports.
In an episode of Doug while fooling around he accidentally kicks a football over the fieldgoal along with his shoe and is recruited for a position in the school football team. Unfortunately, he can't do the kick a second time.
Although he turned out to be really good at football strategy.
In Rocky and Bullwinkle Wossamotta U story arc, football scouts saw Bullwinkle's throwing ability and give them both college football scholarships to help winning the games.
Kung Fu Panda: Po, who was previously thought to be hopelessly clumsy, inadvertently demonstrates his agility when he climbs up some shelves in order to steal some cookies.
In the Looney Tunes short Bugged by a Bee, an ongoing war with a bee accidentally causes Cool Cat to be become a champion pole vaulter, baseballer, rower, hurdler and footballer at college. Parodied at the end, where Cool Cat is congratulated on his contributions to the university's athletic success, and a trophy is awarded to "the one who made it all possible... the bee!"
Dexter's Laboratory episode "Sports a Poppin", has Dexter's dad trying to teach Dexter to be more athletic. While Dexter fails at traditional sports he demonstrates great athleticism at the end of the episode when fighting a giant monster outside his Dad's field of view.
Scooby-Doo's Shaggy twice: In "The Spirited Spooked Sports Show" (1973 episode) and "Spooky Games" (2012 special), he becomes an athletic runner who runs fastest when he's scared.
The animated Punky Brewster episode "The Quartersize Quarterback" has Glomer giving Allen—normally a klutz—the abilities of a professional player who winds up winning a spot with the Chicago Bears. Punky and the others have to stop Allen when Glomer reveals that magic on him has a time limit.
In the autobiography My Life Outside The Ring, Hulk Hogan discovered his affinity for wrestling when his coach pitted him against the #1 wrestler of the school who had just won a competition and the Hulkster won easily without even knowing what he was doing. The coach then faced Hogan himself and Hogan won again at which point he ran away. This is a subversion actually as Hogan did not immediately go into wrestling, and in fact at the time did not want to partake in it.
Football great Jerry Rice was recruited for his high school football team after he ran away from the principal who caught him playing hooky.
In 2008 The Greece (NY) Athena High School basketball team realized that Jason McElwain, their autistic long-time team manager, was about to graduate. So they decided to say 'thank you' at the last home game by letting him play after they were safely ahead during the fourth quarter. He promptly scored 20 points, and I bet they were left wishing they'd put him in a lot earlier... like during his freshman year, perhaps.
That means the opposing team would have actually tried to defend him instead of simply letting him shoot uncontested.
As a child, Boxing icon Muhammad Ali was offered his first boxing lesson by the police officer to whom he'd reported his stolen bicycle. He only took up lessons so that one day he'd be able to beat up the kid that stole his bike...the rest is sporting history.
Not exactly "unrelated activity", but California/Anaheim Angels closer Troy Percival started out as a catcher until the coaches discovered that his returns to the mound were often faster than the other pitchers.
Similar to Percival, Kenley Jansen was a Dutch catcher in the Dodgers minor league system who came to attention when he threw out two runners in a row during the world baseball classic. At the moment, he's currently the Dodgers' ace relief pitcher on the main roster, with an ERA around 2. Lucky him!
Likewise, because it's less strenuous on the arm than most other pitches, position players sometimes fool around with throwing the knuckleball in their spare time. Tim Wakefield was a poor-hitting minor league first baseman when he was discovered to have a talent for throwing the knuckleball and has been a moderately successful pitcher at the major league level for almost two decades.
The reverse of this is Babe Ruth's story: As a pretty good Boston pitcher at the time, he was converted to the outfield when his propensity for good hitting and gargantuan home runs revealed itself. He would still pitch, but not nearly as often, until he was traded to the Yankees and became a pure outfielder.
Legendary sports writer Ring Lardner once said, "As to why the Yankees would waste such a pitching giant on the outfield I can only guess, but I think the blame lies with the Sultan of Swat himself. Hitting home runs has become so popular with the crowd that they had to move such a powerful pitcher off of the mound and into the outfield because if Ruth knows something other than hitting the ball out of the park, it is how to pitch strikeouts."