Part II: FourFourTwo Soccer (Football) Magazine Details "The Talent Myth" In Sports

PASADENA, CA - AUGUST 07: Cristiano Ronaldo  of Real Madrid during the pre-season friendly soccer match against Los Angeles Galaxy on August 7, 2010 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Real Madrid will travel back to Spain after the soccer match completing their pre-season USA tour. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Continued support for Matt's inferences in Part I, his questioning of the perception that inborn talent is the master of success rather than "years of practice," comes from a variety of places. He details a "ground-breaking investigation of British musicians," top level players who learned at very similar rates of improvement as their lower level counterparts. The difference between them wasn't in their talent but that the better performers put many more hours of practice time in.

Another interesting statistic backing up Syed's feelings on this topic, only from a different angle, is the "remarkable bias in the birth dates among top players of various sports." He cites three examples from the soccer pitch, one where more than double the number of players in an elite soccer league were born in one three-month span when compared to another.

The reason - the eligibility cut-off date for soccer in the country where this occurred, England, was right at the beginning of the favored three-month span giving an age/maturity advantage to those whose birthdays were closest to that cut-off date. These players could be up to12 months older than many of their teammates, becoming more likely to be chosen for upper level teams, thus, reaping huge training benefits at the younger levels.

According to the article, this same type of bias held up under scrutiny when looking at a junior level world championship competition where 135 soccer athletes were born within three months of an August 1st cut-off date compared to 22 from May - July, and another where a "Czech national junior football team" had 19 out of 21 athletes born within six months of the January 1st cut-off date and zero born in the last "three months of the year."

These statistics are too compelling for anyone to simply dismiss all better players as prodigies in an attempt to bring some sense of reasoning to all this, even though many will.

Team USA's Tiger Woods hits out of a bunker on the 14th hole on the fourth day of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor resort in Newport, Wales on October 04 2010.  UPI/Hugo Philpott Photo via Newscom

And Mr. Syed cleverly uses one of America's greatest golfing sensations in Tiger Woods to hammer his point home further. He says,

"...consider that Woods was given a golf club five days before his first birthday; that by the age of two he played his first round of golf; that by five he had accumulated more hours of practice than most of us achieve in a lifetime. Far from being a golfer zapped with special powers that enabled him to circumvent practice, Woods is someone who embodies the rigours of practice."

Turning attention back to soccer, the article discusses the use of Futsal as a training means for establishing elite-level soccer players. A game played on a much more compact field, with a ball that is smaller and heavier than a soccer ball, where athletes handle the ball "six times more per minute" than they would in traditional soccer.

Every aspect of the game is at a much higher intensity level with all the most respected Brazilian soccer players (a country known for players with elite soccer skill) being disciplined in this game. This alone strongly supports the idea that proper focus and effort, something I mention in the beginning of Part I of this piece, play a much bigger role in athletic development than does anything else.

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Now, it might sound as if I (and Mr. Syed, since I'm heavily referencing his piece) am completely dismissing the idea of one's talent as an important factor in the development of high-level skill and elite-level play. However, that is not the case; rather, we are both placing one's efforts as much more primary in this development and suggesting that one's talent is more flexible than what people traditionally accept.

As Matt puts it:

"Of Course, none of this is to deny that some kids start out better than others; it is merely to suggest that the starting point we all have in life is not particularly relevant. Why? Because over time, with the right kind of practice, we change so dramatically.

It's not just the body that changes, but the anatomy of the brain."

From my perspective, talent, and one's potential, is like a balloon. The more air you blow into a balloon the larger it gets, stretching and expanding a little more with each breath. And like that balloon, your talent and ultimate potential continue to expand and stretch, getting a little larger with every extra effort you put forth.

Of course there is a limit to that expansion of talent and potential, just like there is a limit to the size that balloon can grow. However, the talent and potential limit we are discussing is far in excess of what most could ever imagine, let alone determine. Generally, most sell themselves infinitely short of what they could accomplish based on the limitations they allow others to place on them and that they place upon themselves.

In final analysis I would like to bring forward two more quotes from Matt's article that help put everything in perspective:

"It is practice, not talent, that is driving patterns of success and failure" and "Success is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and love of what you are doing."

Yep, I think that pretty much sums it up.

Great piece Matt, I am certainly one who agrees!!!

 Oh, and if you are still not convinced then listen to Matthew Syed himself explain these ideas more thoroughly in the following youtube clip.


Wow, could not have said it any better than Matt did in this clip. Awesome!!!

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