A few days ago, i was tutor at a coach education in Germany with talent development as one of the main topics and there was one quote by german national coach Jacob Oehlenschlaeger, that really sticked to my mind. “If you call a kid a talent, you have good chances to kill a potential career”. That may sound strange first but makes total sense in my eyes for many reasons.
Especially in sports and arts we are confronted with the term “talent” all the time and i am sure we have all used it a million times. But why should it be so dangerous to call someone a talent? Most people consider talent as something, that helps you to learn faster then others and most of the definitions will say something like “a gifted person, that can accomplish above-average results in a certain field”. But what does that acctually mean and what is the reason for talent? Is it something you can learn or is it something you are born with? So far, science has no answer to that question but for most people talent appears to be a god given thing and here the dangerous part starts.
“Calling a small kid talent gives you a good chance of killing a potential career” – Jacob Øhlenschlæger
Talent – the key to success?
When succesful people get asked about their secret to success their answers and stories have one thing in common: they all putted in an incredible amount of hard work! No matter how fast you learn, or how easy things come to you, in the end you also have to put in a lot of work, to make use of your potential and be better than the rest.
Just imagine you have two players and you name one of them a talent. What does that mean? Does he start with some extra points before each match? Can he put in less work than the other player in the training? Of course not! There is no benefit for him to be called a talent so why should we do it?
The picture of talent as a given thing easily leads to a fixed mindset, a feeling of determination and missing control of what is happening and what will happen. In case of success, the talent is reason for that success, in case of failure it was bad luck or the others were just more talented. There is no real point in putting in a lot of effort, when you think you have no real influence on your results.
Successful people on the other hand have a strong believe, that they are in control of the situation they are in. They can accomplish their goals by putting in work to develop the nescessary skills to create their success. That so called growth mindest is something, that also great athletes have in common and as a coach I want my athletes to have it too!
What is talent?
A lot of coaches and parents base talent on results, but especially in younger years, when the amount of training is small, motorical or physical advantages play a huge roll and can help kids to get good results and/or fast progress even with little effort. Being tall and having enough power to play a long shot all the way to the backcourt of your opponent is a huge thing in U11. It will probably help to win most matches against late developed kids, no matter how skilled they are technically but these advantages will go away with time automatically.
Of course, there are factors that will help some people to reach heights, that others will never be able to reach, especially in sports, where physical conditions play a huge role. Some of these physical factors are also determined by our gens, but the complexity of sports makes it just impossible to tell if a small kid will make it to the top or not. There has been a lot of studies in different sports about it but they all came to the same conclusion: You need to be a fortune teller if you want to predict the future of a young athlete.
During my years as a badminton player i have seen more than a few players, that got praised by coaches or parents as a big talent in the very early years. Many of these players didn’t make it anywhere near where they were expected to be and i am pretty sure, calling them “a talent” played a huge role in spoiling their mindset and killing their potential career.
A real champion isn’t born but made, and it always needs an incredible amount of willpower and persistence to get to the top. I think we should all keep in mind, that the label “talent” is probably not very helpful for any player but more of an extra challenge to get or keep the mindset he needs to succeed.