Children that progress to show ability are often called child genius or prodigy; I have always been in the camp of calling this perceived talent. However, people do not see how much work the child has invested and undertaken in the pursuit of their craft.
I wrote a post on A Child’s Calling: Signature Strengths. The post presents a new method where your child leads their development and not the parent, with the view that this will help identify your child’s signature strengths.
This was followed a week later with a post on A Child’s Calling: Multiple Intelligences, not Intelligence Quotient. This post highlighted a parent’s fascination with only associating intelligence with academic intelligence and ignoring all the signs of their child’s calling concerning the type of intelligence they have.
The apparent perceived talent or gene to success has always fascinated me, born out of my own experience as a sportsman and having spent the last 16 years coaching national and international athletes across a range of sports. Aside from a few sports (and I mean particular sports), I believe that this notion that talent from birth is key to success is built on brittle foundations.
Winners aren’t born; they are made, so perceived talent
For years, ample people have told me that I need to read the book Bounce by Matthew Syed, which provides detailed insight into the topic of perceived talent. Matthew Syed proves that winners aren’t born; they are made.
I am fully braced for the wave of opposing comments coming in my direction as soon as this post goes live. However, I agree with Syed, want to be a winner? Build the right team around you and work hard each day.
Matthew Syed was a table tennis player and became a British number one in 1995 when there were 2.4 million participants and 30,000 paid-up members in the UK. He was also a three-time Commonwealth table tennis champion. So I am sure that you would agree that he is nicely placed to offer his views on this topic. To add weight to this, he has become an award-winning sports journalist and a superb author.
Syed came up with a list of attributes that catapulted him to sporting greatness. This list included; speed, guile, gutsiness, mental strength, adaptability, agility and reflexes. He often wondered why he was blessed with skills in abundance that elevated him above the rest, beyond the thousands of others aspiring to climb the same mountain in his sport or other sports.
He finds it all compelling when you consider he was from an ordinary family, ordinary town, with no silver spoon, advantage, and nepotism. Instead, his success was based on individuality, a personal odyssey of success and a true triumph against the odds. Syed retells his story using scientific research to show a combination of equipment, opponent, a passionate coach, and venue can lead to this individuality of achievement.
These arguments are so captivating that you cannot ignore them. Compelling enough to make you sit up and take notice. In his initial assessment of himself, he analysed his background. He noted that his street, ‘Silverdale Road’, a single street, surprisingly contained a number of the country’s top players. It produced top table tennis players than the rest of the nation combined. To the extent that Syed wondered if some genetic mutation had spread on Silverdale Road.
His views were simple; he had a decisive advantage which others did not. All systems must have aligned to achieve what he did, that hard work alone could not achieve it. In his quest to understand what was behind his achievement, Syed found that the number of hours devoted to severe practise was the key to success.
Is there science to support this?
This notation is backed up by the study conducted by psychologist Anders Ericsson in 1991. Ericsson and colleagues looked at violinists at a renowned Music Academy of West Berlin in Germany. They divided the violinist into three groups; outstanding students, extremely good students and able students, based on objective measures like success in open competition.
They found that the top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to becoming master performers. They found that hard work alone could not get you there, but the purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest. This purposeful practice is what ultimately matters, not perceived talent.
Research has found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task. This is one thousand hours per year, which extrapolated over 10 years will be ten thousand hours, the minimum time necessary for acquiring expertise in any complex task.
I reached a good level in both football and athletics as a sprinter. I transitioned into coaching after my spikes and foot decided they had enough. I have observed great coaches and coached at a high level for the best part of 17 years; one of the most fascinating things is seeing good athletes who were not predisposed to a sporting family tearing up the track or the sport they are participating in.
With all my observations long before picking up the Bounce book, I believed the technical practice was superior to perceived talent. However, I feel even stronger about it now, with the exact weight of the researched and anecdotal data presented in the book.
As a parent, if you believe that this magical perceived talent exists and your child does not have it, you rob them of an opportunity to excel in a chosen craft.
Suppose you happen to be one of those that believe your child is talented from birth. In that case, I will ask you to reconsider and see the contributions you have either consciously or subconsciously made. Likewise, the opposite is true; if you believe this is perceived talent is from birth, I can assure you that complacency will set in. You fail to build on the early effort when dedicated hours is required to jump up in level.
Want success for your child in any given field, then my advice is to practice, practice, practice, fill your 10,000-hour tank, and your child will have the best chance to reach expert territory!