Saturday, 27 December 2008

Talent alone is not enough.

 

I just finished reading a very exciting book written by Malcom Gladwell entitled:”Outliers”.

Outliers is a provocative and inspiring book aimed at trying to explain what makes exceptionally successful people. Malcom Gladwell examines everyone, from business giants to scientific geniuses to sports stars. This very interesting book argues that the main reasons behind success in every field are:

 

 

- People life’s choices, culture and opportunities

- Practice (where he refers to Ericsson’s 10.000 hours rule of deliberate practice, click here if you want to read more about this)

- Luck (everyone needs to be in the right place at the right time)

- Cultural heritage (who do you think you are…where are your genes/experiences/values coming from?)

The conclusion is that great people are the result of an incredible talent mixed with a fortunate array of opportunities they have been given. The sports-specific consideration that Gladwell makes is related to observation of specific patterns in Canadian Hockey players. In particular, he focuses on the fact that most elite Canadian hockey players are born between January and April of any given year. Something to do with cut-offs for age-classes happening on January 1 of every year. Pretty much he discusses the fact that selection in Canadian hockey is more based on maturation. Something that he could have expanded a bit more I have to say.

Gladwell’s most interesting remark is that social forces largely explain why some people work harder when presented with exciting opportunities to succeed and improve. This is why Chinese people work very hard and American kids are raised with a fanatical devotion to meritocracy [something clearly missing in Italian kids….but this is probably material for another book!].

Most successful people have a phenomenal ability to focus their attention, they have an incredible ability to formulate strategies in order to resist impulses and they have incredible resilience. This is so true of champions. Champions are outliers, people with incredible skills, individuals able to see things faster and clearer than others, people able to move, jump, throw better than others. However as Muhammad Ali stated “Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill”.

Sport Outliers are special people, they are the ones winning gold medals at the Olympic games, the ones winning the six nations, the World championships. The talent needs to be there, but a part from culture, luck and social forces, what kind of opportunities can Sports Science provide? In many cases, the bests sports scientists tend to work with elite senior athletes and in many sports there is no cascade/adaptation of best practice to junior athletes and coaches and support staff working with development athletes. Can sports science make a difference at a very early stage of athletic development? Also, how many talents have been lost because of poor opportunities?

Without practice, training, and the right opportunities (i.e.access to best resources/facilities/advice/coaching and sports scientists?) success in sport can only be a chance of occurrence?

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