Over my years as a coach I have grown to hate the terms “my child is gifted” and “my child is talented.” Both talented and gifted mean virtually the same thing. Gifted means “having exceptional talent or natural ability” and talented means “having a natural aptitude or skill for something.” When parents use either of those terms, it typically spells the beginning of the end for the development and growth of that athlete. The problem with being labeled gifted or talented is that for many parents those qualities replace hard-work and dedication. In truth, as a coach, I have seen very few talented or gifted athletes. At younger ages, the most dominant athletes are usually more physically developed than their counterparts. Being more physically developed than your peers at a young age shouldn’t be considered talented or gifted because soon everyone will grow and develop physically. Eventually, the aspect that allowed you to dominate will begin to plateau. Now, I have seen athletes with more ability than others in specific areas, but I am not sure I would classify that as a gift or a talent.
HARD WORK + ABILITY = TALENT
If we look at athletes like Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather, Gabby Douglas, Serena Williams. These athletes are at the top of their industry, and their abilities are undeniable but what makes them talented? Lebron James may have the talent of jumping higher than most, Floyd Mayweather may have the talent of faster hand reaction, but those abilities alone didn’t make Mayweather a talented boxer or Lebron a talented basketball player Their skills and prowess in boxing and basketball came from hard work and dedication. These athletes are gifted in specific areas, but too often their hard work and dedication to their craft is misconstrued as talented or giftedness? These athletes have abilities that make them better suited for their sport than most people but to call someone merely talented or gifted assumes that they possess all the qualities needed to be successful at their given sport and that is unrealistic.
Let’s look at “his Airness” Michael Jordan. Looking at everything Michael has accomplished it is difficult to argue he is immensely talented, except for the fact that he was cut from his high school basketball team. Now, realistically did Michael have some ability to play basketball, of course. It is unrealistic to think someone could rise to his level without some natural talent but it wasn’t until he coupled that talent with hard work did his true ability shine through.
Sport’s history is littered with people with stories similar to Michael Jordan, the Tom Brady’s of the world who was drafted 199 overall, in the 6th round with a compensatory pick, who went on to become the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl History. It wasn’t these athletes immense talent that got them to the level they are at. It was their relentless dedication to mastering their craft. Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, wasn’t at all silent when it comes to what it takes for him to be great. Every opportunity he gets he makes it understandable that yes, he has the talent, but it takes hard work, sacrifice and dedication to his craft for him to be as successful as he has been. There are some aspects about his genetics that made him better suited for sprinting than most of his competitors, but in a sport where the difference between first place and last place can be less than a second, talent alone cannot be the overriding factor of success.
There are several problems with using the word talented or gifted with young athletes or kids in general. First, talent or giftedness is viewed from a holistic standpoint instead of being broken down into different aspects of skills. As alluded to earlier people are gifted in specific areas, but it typically takes multiple skills working in conjunction with each other to make someone successful. Second, being talented or gifted is often applied to only one general area. Therefore, focusing too much on that one area can cause underdevelopment in the other aspects that will make the athlete successful overall. Third parents used the word talented or gifted too generally and too often. When parents use those words, they tend to have an elitist feel to them. Forth, if an athlete believes they are talented or gifted, then they naturally overlook the need for hard work. Fifth, because more often than not a child is not gifted or talented, it is just a matter of time before reality sets in on what they are perceived to be gifted or talented at without the incorporation of hard work into the equation. Lastly, athletes who believe they are gifted or talented have a sense of entitlement. Thus, they tend to lack the necessary follow-through to tackle areas that are a struggle for them.
EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A BEAST UNTIL IT IS TIME TO DO WHAT BEAST DO
As a parent, it is hard for me to listen to other parents classify other gymnast’s success as merely a factor of talent while completely disregarding the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication that athlete is making. I believe often it is a subconscious justification for their child’s lack of success. I am a huge fan of motivational speaker Eric Thomas and one of his favorite sayings is “everybody wants to be a beast but when you go to the gym you ain’t on beast mode.” It is no coincidence that the people we label the most talented are often the hardest working
As a coach, I have a saying “Respect The Grind.” I tell my athletes winning and losing is decided well before you step into the arena to compete. That same rule applies to gymnastics. “Talent” happens far away from the watchful eye of the crowds. Far away from the cheers and applause from the spectators. It occurs in the endless hours of drills at the gym. The hours spent perfecting the routines. The time used for conditioning and the tremendous commitment to seeking out every little advantage that could give you the edge over your opponents. That is where talent lives.
HARD WORK WILL ALWAYS BEAT TALENT IF TALENT DOESN’T WORK HARD
Next time, instead of using the phrase talented or gifted, employ the term hardworking when referring to and talking to your athletes. As the old saying goes “hard work will always beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard.” There are limits to talent, but there is no limit to hard work. If an athlete struggles, it is easier to say “you have to work harder” than it is to say “you have to be more gifted.” I agree, saying “my child is a hard worker” doesn’t sound as sexy as saying “my baby is so gifted” to all your social media followers, but in the long run, it is much more beneficial to the growth of your athlete.