TALENT

Let’s think about ‘Talent’.  Just what is talent?  It is a widely used word, but in sport coaching we are careful how we apply it and this got me thinking…

We might say that someone has a talent for sport or a talent for leading people or a creative talent.  Current thinking is that it is about the hours that we put in to make things work.  It is about the effort and commitment that we make which leads to successful outcomes. Do I hear you say ‘no, I could never do this/that/the other, of course there is such a thing as talent’?

One of the things that I love about my work as a coach is the transferability of coaching principles.

Let’s think about that.  If we start with sport, it helps to illustrate the point. Consider a Ladies netball team. Do they have physical attributes in common? How about great bowlers – do our best cricketers have anything in common? How about Gymnasts? Sport climbers who almost run up impossible-looking rock faces? Rowers?  Ask yourself, are they tall? Short? Well-built? Wiry?  Can you see a rugby prop doing gymnastics? For sure, we can all make a difference to our body shapes, but only to a degree.  We wouldn’t expect the best sport climbers to be powerful rowers. We wouldn’t expect our netball players to be gymnasts or ballerinas.  There is no judgement in this, it’s just the way we are.  We build on our physical attributes and learn the motor skills for our sport.  We develop patterns and neural pathways which mean we don’t have to think everything through from scratch.  

Although there may not be a direct comparison, it isn’t a huge leap to accept that we are born with a certain nature and then, as life goes on, we build on early interactions to develop ourselves into who we are today.  It means we are all different, we all have strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes.  We may have great ‘emotional intelligence’, we might have excellent practical skills, we might be very creative, we might love a challenge.  This is the fascination with people: we are not the same. And this is where the challenge comes in when we have to work with those different people….

I think that talent is maybe something rather more subtle than we first thought.  It is the intrinsic ‘wiring’ of our brain, or the shape of our body plus commitment and practice in what we want to do.  

It is all a question of degree, of our expectations.  Somehow we need to identify realistic expectations.  If we’re not built to be jockeys, then we must look to what we can do: if not flat race, then maybe a steeplechase jockey who can be taller.  If we are too broad to be a sport climber, then maybe a mountaineer.  For World Class athletes or for leaders of the World’s biggest companies, then we are likely to need a very specific body type or set of brain functions, but if we want to do well at a different level, then maybe there is nothing stopping us.  Just because we can’t run a country, we shouldn’t give up on helping at a community level.  Just because we aren’t brilliant with numbers, it doesn’t mean we can’t run a business.  If we are great with people, then perhaps we should look at jobs that need those skills, if we are practical and logical and risk averse, perhaps we should look at jobs that need that.  If we love numbers, then there are jobs that need those skills. We don’t all have to climb the same career tree, there are people in diverse roles who can all reach the top.  We can compete at a high level in sport or sports – there is no shortage of people succeeding in second sports because, given the right build, a huge part of success is mental.  It is the determination and single-mindedness to focus on a vey specific goal – at the highest level this is usually to the exclusion of just about everything else.  We need to pick our level, decide on the balance we want and then be sure that our expectations are realistic for the person that we are. 

Finally, then, next time you wonder what’s stopping you from reaching the top of your tree, perhaps the first question is, ‘Am I climbing the right tree?”

Alison Payne

Author Alison Payne

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