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Does talent ruin people?
By: Andrea Furst (profile)
There is an ongoing debate regarding the contribution of natural talent to sporting success.

There is an ongoing debate regarding the contribution of natural talent to sporting success. 

Luke Donald was asked recently in an interview, “Who is more talented, Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods?”  His response was intriguing and insightful:

The word ‘talent’ and Rory to me means a free-flowing swing, who makes everything look easy.  TW (Tiger) has always been the best at getting the ball in the hole when it mattered the most.  That’s not just talent, that’s something else too.”  This highlights a potential difference that players see between natural physical ability (i.e., a free-flowing swing) and the additional skills (i.e., performing under pressure) that are required to play golf at the highest level.

I recall a conversation that I had several years ago with one of Australia's most successful golf coaches about this very topic.  His opinion was quite matter-of-fact, "talent ruins people".  This from a man who has seen a lot of professional players come and go, succeed and fail, realise their dream and fall short.  He explained that talented players were often the ones that either had been told (too often) that they were going to ‘make it’ and/or the ones that relied solely on their talent, without realizing that work was still required to succeed at the professional game of golf.

Golf coaches see talent on the driving range every day.  However, it is clear that abundant talent is no guarantee of future success.  So how do we make the most of the talent we have?

The purpose of this commentary is not to delve deeply into definitions but to highlight the value of reflection at the beginning of another year… Simply ask yourself, “Am I making the most out of what talent I have?”

Rafa Nadal reveals that his tennis coach, Toni uses talent as a motivator:

“Toni has never ceased to remind me – and I know he is right – that Federer is more technically gifted that I am, but he does so not to cause me dependency, but because he knows saying so will motivate me to sharpen my game.”

No-one could argue that Nadal is not making the most out of what talent he has.

The debate boils down to a basic question: are some people born with specific skills destined for success or is it what people do with their skills that then create opportunities for success?

Popular books such as 'The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born.  It’s Grown.  Here’s How', 'Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else’, ‘Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success’, and 'Outliers: The Story of Success' as well as research articles by the likes of Dr Anders Ericsson contribute knowledge to the debate regarding the key contributors to success.

There are many similarities amongst success stories.

Despite coming from a completely different industry, reading the ‘Principles’ of Ray Dalio (the founder of some of the world’s biggest hedge funds) has further demonstrated to me that there are aspects of success that run through nearly all games and modes of life: purposeful goals, discipline, and consistency.  Moreover, the capacity to accept difficulties and overcome them is paramount to his Principles.

There are multiple points of interest in each of these books and articles, which shed light on past or current successful individuals.  Reading about experts and success stories in any field provide real-life tips for players who have aspirations to be the best they can. 

So, what do I think...?

Nothing beats quality hard work!

This is an opinion not a fact.  There are plausible arguments for both sides of the talent debate and one that I will admit still finds me with exceptions to both rules!

Quality is vital.  If you dedicate yourself to the little things such as making sure you are eating well, sleeping well, doing your physiotherapy exercises to manage your body, etc. that make a difference to your game then you are well on your way to ensuring that you get the most out of yourself.  Furthermore, the training of body and mind must be relevant to the pursuit.  There is an increasing amount of valuable data becoming available to validate that the quality of practice is influential in successful pursuits.

So, are you maximising your talent? 

There are a few key behaviours that are observed by successful golfers who really make the most out of their talents.  This means they are squeezing the most out of themselves out on the course during tournaments.  Here are a few character traits for you to consider:

  1. Being consistent is imperative in golf.  Good golf integrates many skills and the ability for players to stick to what works for them at all times, rather than getting slack, involves a commitment to being consistent in preparation and execution.  It’s so easy to slip up and get lazy.  In fact, it is quite normal.  Action: do the things that most others cannot be bothered to do!
  2. Valuing the process more than the outcome.  Goal setting has been highlighted in previous articles, however being clear on how you will achieve your goals is the key step.  Plus, remain committed to the processes that work for you; seeing them as the only way to achieve the outcomes you want.
  3. Getting help on the skills that are required to maximize yourself.  Analysing your Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) will always reveal weapons and weaknesses.  Knowing what are your weapons has to be matched with appreciating and working diligently on making your weaknesses as good as they can be.  Actually, identifying your weaknesses and being cognisant of these weaknesses is the first step to making the most out of you natural talent.  Activities that can assist with this include thorough pre-season goal setting and planning in addition to thoughtful reflections on progress throughout the season.

Regardless of how much natural talent you have been endowed with, it is what you decide to do with it that makes all the difference to your chances of achieving personal success.  Talent is given gift.  Using it is a choice…


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