A few years ago, there was a major bestselling book that came out entitled TALENT IS OVERRATED by Geoff Colvin, a well-known columnist for FORTUNE Magazine. The general theme, as you might imagine, is that talent isn’t necessary if you want to seriously improve and master a skill in life. Colvin talks about the importance of serious and deliberate practice if you truly desire to improve your skills. Along the way, he sprinkles in several case studies, and of course,discusses the need to put in 10,000 hours of concentrated and deliberate practice into making real improvement. I have no issue with any of that.
And for many readers and especially sports parents, this book helped to justify a life lesson that they have always felt. And it’s a lesson that they have passed onto their kids: that if you want to achieve a goal badly enough, then you just need to practice and practice and practice.
But the problem is…that’s just not true. Or at least as it applies to young athletes.
Yes, if you practice your dribbling, or fielding a baseball, or shooting free throws, YES, you will improve and get better.
BUT here’s the important catch: you will only get as good as your inherent God-given ability is.
In short, we are limited by what our innate talent is, and our talent will dictate just how far it will take us.
Let me give you an example: when I was a kid, I played a lot of basketball, and I used to try and improve my leaping ability all the time. I would practice endlessly on a basketball court, hoping someday I could be good enough to dunk a basketball. I remember even wearing ankle weights for a full year to improve my leg and calf strength.
And indeed I did add some a couple of inches of height to my jumping. That was due to my endless practicing. But try as I might, I could never jump any higher. And of course, there was no way I could ever reach the jumping heights of a Michael Jordan. It just wasn’t in my genes.
No matter how long or how hard I practiced, I realized it wasn’t going to happen. I just wasn’t wired, or born, that way. I reached my limit and no matter how much I wanted to jump higher, or how much more I practiced, I had topped out.
It’s the same with trying to throw a pitch 90 mph, or hit 400 foot homers or any other elite athletic skill.
Now, most kids discover their limits on their own. But sadly, a lot of them –whether to please one’s Mom or Dad or even to impress their coach –these kids just continue to practice and practice. After all, they have fully accepted that if “I want it bad enough, I can achieve it through more practice.”
Coaches know all about this…because every coach has seen first-hand kids who are determined to make the team and to be a starter, but the coach can plainly see that while the kid has the drive, hr or she just doesn’t have the ability.
It’s hard and heart-breaking to cut a kid like this, but that’s the harsh reality of sports.
My suggestion? Yes, explain to your youngster that if they want to improve in sport, there’s no substitute for practice and more practice. That’s essential.
BUT you also need to caution them that practice will only let them reach their God-given plateau of ability…that is, they may peak in HS, or on a travel team, but only a few lucky ones who were born with extraordinary athletic ability will make it to a college team or beyond. They need to be warned that just more practice will not necessarily push them higher and higher into the collegiate or pro ranks.
This is NOT meant to discourage your kids from trying to achieve is to reach their full potential athletically. You want them to do that. But as one caller commented on my radio this AM, the aim here is for your athlete to “be all that they can be.”
That catchphrase is right on target. Let them reach for the stars, but if they are meant to top out in middle school or high school, or wherever, that’s fine.