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We’ve created our own monster – it’s called talent

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Anyone who reads this blog, or indeed this site, will fancy themselves as a good coach. Though that sounds like being damned with faint praise, it’s far from it. You need to be confident in what you do and how you do it. And, because you are always looking to grow as a coach, you will read around your discipline.

Of course I’m not suggesting that reading this blog or anything by me is a prerequisite for being a good coach. However, I do think we need to think very carefully about what a good coach creates.

Let’s start at the beginning.

We are all selfish. We love coaching because it gives us an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction. That’s good news all round because the recipients of our coaching draw enormous benefit from our interest in their development.

Readers of this blog will be working in individual and team sports, with most of us involved in some way in the grassroots of the sport, and some in the elite. Our weekly diet of coaching might be with just grassroots, just elite or both, but we will all recognise what it takes to coach at the top level. We also have a pretty good idea of what an elite athlete looks like.

How an athlete goes from beginner to elite is the subject of much debate. Within that spectrum of views, you will have a position yourself. You will also be keen to be part of the process of identification and development of the elite athletes.

This site has had some fascinating insights into top level development and selection. I think many of us wish we were at the top making those decisions, yet also know that it comes with large dollops of stress. Some of us will have been there, or close to it and stepped back as the scrutiny became ever greater.

I hope you have nodded your way through this little journey so far, realising where you are on that path.

Yet, I believe we have created our own monster, just by being coaches.

The Olympics and probably to an even greater extent the ParaOlympics illustrated this. There are many positives to come from both events on lots of levels. But the human cost to many athletes is very hard to measure, and it’s certainly not apparent to the viewer.

For every gold, silver and bronze, for every final appearance or Olympic qualification, there’s a greater number of elite athletes who are now, for the moment, sub-elite. These are the ones who didn’t make it.

That leaves a trail of sub-elite athletes who’ve become disenchanted with the sport they may have loved. They have plenty of talent. However, that is the problem. Talent has become a millstone.

The millstone of talent creates the monster. The monster we feed all too readily. It leads to that turn of phrase that quite easily squeezes the life of a sports person – fulfilling that talent. It leads to hours of extra training, much of it away from the nub of the sport itself.

We love working with talented players. We also love working with hard-working players. They will seek us out, ask for extras, want to know which path to take, what to sacrifice.

The danger is that we help them realise their dreams which become, increasingly, a goal that needs to be met. Diets change, friends change, family life becomes centred on the goal. Education, work and social lives are adjusted. Normal, healthy relationships are potentially lost.

I’m just as guilty as the next coach of creating this monster. It’s not the athlete’s fault. It’s our desire to help them fulfil their talent.

Can we just let talent take care of itself? Can we create environments where being an elite athlete doesn’t mean sacrificing the true ethos of sport?

Perhaps this monster is the root of much of the drug problems and corruption of the game. Also, with far more focus on depression in sport, do we think we are pushing too hard, even if we think we are doing it to help the players fulfil the talent?

I think it comes down to the consequences of losing – or not performing. Increasingly I like the idea that sport is great because there’s always next week. The monster withers if there are fewer trophy cabinets, more memories of friendly rivalry and, probably, less coaching. 

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Comments (6)

   
andrewb62

Great post, Dan, and a very important issue.
But is it "talent" that is the millstone, or the talent pathway? The idea that talent will be fulfilled if the athlete "follows the way"?
I work mostly with groups of children at the ignition/early participation stage - they play for fun, to be with their friends - but also with a few individuals with an eye on that talent pathway.
One of the latter, undoubtedly talented and with potential to become an even better player, has just been invited to join the County "performance" squad. Access to more experienced, better qualified coaches, to technical innovation, S&C and lifestyle support.

She is just 12 years old.
Will she still be enjoying the game in four years?

12/10/16
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skitson

A really well written post Dan. Certainly has got me thinking about my own practices. The question that is going around my head is what is our role as a coach at each level of the pathway and how far or how much should coaches be involved when it comes to supporting athletes towards their goals or helping them make it to the next level? We all want to see those we coach reach their goals and aspire to be the best they can be but at what expense. Interestingly with World Mental Health Day just a few days ago I do believe their is a gap in coach development to up skill the workforce to provide athletes with greater lifestyle and emotional support training. I know mental health awareness training and workshops that look at the personality and mind-set of athletes is out there but application of these skills in the role of a counsellor effectively is perhaps not that prevalent thus I would love to hear from coaches within sports who feel their governing body has already recognised some of the aspects of Dan's blog and are beginning to alter the way they do things? A good lunchtime read. Cheers.

13/10/16
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Ralph

How depressing.
For me has always been simple.
Did you choose the game or did the game choose you?
Ask any kid and it’s either, parents, coach or social conformity that decides whether they take up the sport.
Now all that has to happen is any talent constraints and a brick wall is hit.
The reason there are so many types of sports, is because there are so many types of human.
Each human fitting physically, and psychologically into the sport or not.
Just because they seemed to not have talent for their chosen sport, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have any talent.
Just as there is a life partner our there for pretty much everyone, there’s also a sport that will suit us.
If you’re lucky enough to find it, job done.
If you’re unlucky enough to be pushed into the wrong sport, you hit the talent wall.
Given enough freedom, the child will pick the right sport because the sport will choose the child.

13/10/16
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TrampDeb

Talent is one thing and its not an item.. You have to consider the whole package of which most of it has baggage to include psychological, parent and environment. The talent is the easy bit. That I'm sure we know how to hone and improve. We can all look at how a body moves and detect which bit should be doing what. I bet most of us watch other sports and automatically watch how the body moves and offer opinion of what bit isn't working well enough. The mental mountain is the one that is the hardest to climb. So many uphill battles. Good days and bad days of which is all down to what mindset they are in. I've become a very good psychologist - however, its only works if they want it too.

10/11/16
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SteveRuis

I think we are deluding ourselves. What is this thing we think we know of as "talent?" Basically we call anyone with a modicum of proficiency "talented," as if they were not responsible for their own capabilities. (I avoid the term "talent" because it allows an athelete to believe that their proficiency comes from somewhere outside of them.) Sure everyone has genetic propensities and physical abilities but not all tall people like basketball, nor do those with fast hands want to be boxers. So, what keeps us on an improvement path? I suggest that improvement is a big part of that, why would anyone keep trying if they are getting worse or staying the same (even though some do, most do not). So, their labors have to bear some fruit. There is something else, though, and that proficiency needs to feel some psychological need. Most coaches would prefer that the joy of performing be that major need, but as a teach of many decades, I found students motivated by the joy of learning were few and far between. Some of these psychological motivations can be quite negative. I suggest that if they are not positive, that student will not be in that sport for long. Why "recreate" a negative mood or feeling?

14/11/16
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Ralph

better words than talent, for me, would be,
capability and or ability and or proficiency,
because those three words have physiological, architectural, or neurological limits; they are finite, whereas talent is a vague, complex of many competing factors.

14/11/16
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