The Talent Equation

It's a phrase I've heard over and over again for most of the last 20 years…"He's very talented that one".

Now I've heard it, and I've seen plenty of "talent" come and go in a variety of professional settings over the years, however it never ceases to amaze me that the "talented" don't always make it.  In the light of my past few weeks I thought I would delve into the issue.

Some years ago I worked with a very smart doctor by the name of Martin "Slippery" Raftery.  Now Martin has been around in both professional sport and very high level business for a long time.  One day he shared with me what he called the TALENT EQUATION.

Talent = Natural Ability + Attitude + Commitment + Physical Structure + Luck

What parts of this equation can we affect?

Natural Ability…you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family!  For some players I've met, I think Mum and Dad should have been given the big contracts because its their genetic work that got the job done!  These are generally the athletes blessed with natural muscle mass and speed,

Attitude…in the words of the DETERMINED man Nick Vujicic…"attitude is altitude".  Having the right attitude starts and ends with the individual…you make the choice.

Commitment…consider the bacon and eggs you had for breakfast…the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed!  Everything in life comes at a cost…are you willing to pay what it costs to get what you want?

Physical Structure…in general great gains can be made in this area.  There is a limit to how much we can effect this based on Natural Ability (responders and non-responders) but in principle hard work can prevail.

Luck…some would say that by working hard you create your own luck.  If this is true then we shouldn't call it luck we should just call it hard work!  That said, timing in life is critical…take your chances while they are available. 
"Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get."   
                        -- Ray Kroc (1902-1984), founder of McDonalds…probably the only good thing ever to come out of McDonalds!

So now we know all the elements of the talent equation.  How many of them can we Influence with our actions...two big time (attitude and commitment) and two to a large extent (physical structure and luck…if you subscribe to the Ray Kroc theory) and the fifth we have absolutely no control over; natural ability.

On a weekly, daily even hourly basis, focus all your efforts on what you can control and don't worry about what you can't.

In cases where Natural Ability exists, as front line coaching staff we need to ensure that the athlete knows where they stand and the steps needed to optimise their gifts.  In this we can not "pussy foot" around.  Athletes who feed you the "I don't need to do any of that…I'll be right at game time", need to be addressed swiftly and with a degree of clarity that is unmistakeable.

Long term injury in those with Natural Ability often sees the "It'll be alright on the night" attitude pop up.  This is were you get to see what these individuals are made of.  Experience tells me that it is NEVER right on the night unless you've done the work!  I've had the privilege of working directly with some of Australia's best football athletes, as they fought through significant long term orthopedic injuries and I can tell you first hand…the only thing that gets you through the hard times in rehabilitation is hard work!  Athletes such George Gregan, Matthew Pavlich, Ben Tune, Aaron Sandilands have illustrated to me time and again what it takes to make it at the highest level.

If you are following my train of thought you will also appreciate my article on Athlete Integrity vs. Athletic Integrity.

One of the most naturally talented athletes I have ever worked with is Matt Giteau.  Matt came into the Wallabies as an 18 year old and has always presented to me as one of the hardest working players I've ever been involved with.  You only have to look at the way he used to spend his summers (when he lived in Australia) …running with his mum!  That was his benchmark training and I can guarantee it never let him down in the heat of the fiercest international battle.

So, where does all this leave us as coaches.

  1. From the earliest age don't feed BS to the naturally talented, let them know the work required.
  2. Expect more of the naturally talented, because they can evolve as much as any athlete.
  3. Ensure your program design caters for the needs of the naturally talented.
  4. Don't get sucked into the vortex of putting all your time and effort into just the naturally talented…in team sports it will take more than one guy to win consistently.
  5. Don't miss the basics, even those with natural ability are subject to their own form of "kryptonite", and despite their assertions to the opposite…they are never indestructible.
  6. Guide young athletes to focus their efforts on Commitment, Attitude and Physical Structure…the rest will look after itself.


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