Sunday, 4 December 2011

Talent v Hard Work: The Debate

Recent years has seen an influx of bestseller books about success and talent.  Alongside, and probably not completely independent of, our obsession with celebraty and reality tv, it seems that there is a public interest in the ingredients of success.  Just like everyone thinks that they can be famous, they also think that they can be hughly successful if they take the right steps.  The good news, according to books such as Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell), The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle) and Bounce (Matthew Syed) is that they can.  The bad news is that the right step is hardwork and lots of practice - 10,000 hours to be more precise.

At the UKSEM Conference last week this hardwork notion formed one of the main themes.  Indeed both Coyle and Syed gave excellent talks in support of their position.  Meanwhile sport science blogger, Ross Tucker, pointed out the flaws in thier argument.  The truth is probably somewhere in between, but for me it doesn't really matter if the notion that you need only hardwork to succeed is completely true or not; what is important is that:
1. If you are not good at something at first, this doesn't mean that you will never be good at it - There truely is hope for all of us.
2. If athletes are good, and they think that talent is all they need to succeed, then why do they need to train or practice?

As coaches, or professionals working with athletes, we should always praise effort, not ability; as athletes we should never give up the fight.  Yes there are probably some aspects of our physical or mental make-up that makes success in certain sports easier, but always remember the people that have broken the mould: Usain Bolt was once deemed too tall for sprinting, Stefan Holm, the most successful high jumper of all time, isn't even 6 foot tall.

Outliers, The Talent Code and Bounce can all be purchased at Amazon or in any good bookshop.  If you want to watch Tucker's presentation from UKSEM and read his balanced perspective of the talent v training argument, check out his blog on the excellent The Science of Sport.

And, remember, whatever it is that you are trying to achieve, keep practicing!

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