We’ve all heard the comments, “Wow, look how talented that player is” or “Boy, is that kid good, he (she) must have tons of talent” or even “That girl (boy) is going to be great someday, her (his) parents were both Olympic athletes.”
Yes, many equate high levels of skill and athletic accomplishment with the innate talents one is born with – the ability to do things better than others supposedly based on one’s genetic code. It sure is a convenient explanation, is it not? I mean, if one can perform at levels well beyond others then they must have something intrinsically extraordinary, and those who can’t are simply lacking in talent.
However, what if that is not quite accurate? What if what we see is not solely a function of one’s inborn gifts, in this case, athletic gifts? What if what is seen as talent at one stage of development is merely a difference in maturity at that given time, and, ultimately, has little to do with what one can potentially become. And what does this mean for parents raising young athletes and/or for coaches trying to help develop youngsters’ athletic abilities?
Just in the last five years or so, some very interesting perspectives on this exact topic have surfaced. Books like Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated” and Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code” both, in one way or another, significantly downplay the role of inborn talents while greatly emphasizing the importance of practice. And not just any practice, but the right type of practice.
I am speaking of the kind of practice where a great deal of time is spent on developing proper technique and fundamentals in all aspects of the “game,” activity, and/or sport. All of this is in combination with pushing yourself to the brink of your own capabilities, making mistakes, and then focusing intently on correcting those mistakes. Basically – striving for mastery.
Without a doubt, the two books mentioned above were written to explain what it takes to develop and achieve greatness, athletic or otherwise. So the next logical question you might ask is what significance does this have for me as a parent of a young athlete, since my present purpose falls far outside the realm of creating the “world’s best?”
My answer – a lot!
You see, athletic sports participation is all about testing one’s limits, about seeing how far one can go – no matter what level that “go” is. It’s about the life lessons we gain and how we apply those life lessons. Sports participation is a means to an end, an experience from which we acquire valuable tools – tools which help bolster the possibility of success in many areas of our life.
The battle, for us as parents, is to decide on which side of the fence we want to fall. Is it on the side of helping our children control their own destinies, or leaving that control up to something outside of their own choices and decision-making power?
Think deeply about the question posed above; what is it that you really want to encourage and support in your own children?
If the core message communicated to one’s offspring is that talent is what makes someone great, then they learn to accept that what they ultimately become is outside of their control, an aspect entirely dictated by some genetic predetermination. It is a pat answer for one’s failure, an excuse for not trying harder. In actuality, it is a likely set-up for achieving very little.
On the other hand, if we foster the idea that with the right type and amount of effort, anything is possible, then, just maybe, anything is possible!
As a young high school athlete myself, when faced with some undeniably impossible odds, and at a time when things looked most bleak, all it took was a statement from my father that “you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.” It was this statement (reiterated several times in different ways) which set me on that path of the right amount of practice and type of effort – a path that I would never have traveled if my father’s core belief system was that destiny is much more determined by talent than it is by effort.
And what did I find out about that advice he gave me at such a critical point in my life? That he was absolutely correct!
Don’t ever underestimate the power you have as a parent. Give them the opportunity and encouragement they need to reach beyond normal limits by taking a position that with enough practice and the right type of effort, their dreams can come true.
It certainly worked for me!