Mark Gillett

Come back frequently……

Talent… In reply to Kes

with 4 comments

Kester Wilkinson commented on the Joining the Dots post and rather than reply to him I thought I would post a response as this is a subject close to my heart….He pointed me to this article and asked for an opinion. Of course, I have one!

I believe the word talent is used very loosely and by many without due care and thought. Coaches are also very apt at using it to get business and if misunderstood can lead to many false beliefs and players who simply will never achieve their potential.

With regard to the article I believe whole heartedly in the number of hours practice put in being an indicator of potential. There is a lot of evidence now proving the 10,000 hours theory and having worked in performance tennis for many years I am pretty much in support of this barring the odd freak of course. The 10,000 hours applies to anything not just sport. It is also important to consider the quality of the 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours of bad coaching or ill spent time will result in under achieving.

However, there are certain windows of opportunity within ones development that need to be optimised for the best chance of success. If you try to teach a 13-year-old certain biomechanics and their skill base is not too strong, then 20,000 hours is unlikely to work let alone ten!  Start the same child at 3 years old and the chances are a lot higher.

This brings me to skill which is often confused with or mixed with talent. Skill base varies a lot and some young sports players will appear extremely skilful without much coaching. It just comes naturally because of genetics.  This does NOT, however, mean they will be stars and this is where coaches can be misleading or just plain stupid by telling a parent that their child has talent and can go a long way. “A long way” is then interpreted by the parent as ” potential superstar” and so begins the road to failure.  If parents are not good role models but grab at the comments of the coach only, then chances of success are not great.

The key to success in my opinion is a mix of skill sets, windows of opportunity, environment – hence the references to Reading and Russia made by the author and also apply to Bolletieri Tennis Academy as well as many others. Environment must not be underestimated. For example, 10,000 hours fitted in between school lessons, home life and holidays is very different to 10,000 in an academy where hours are concentrated and back to back. Academies prove very successful much because of the environment of pressure, hard work and the hours put in.  And of course pressure of peers pushing each other to new heights.

Henman is a good example of the mix.  He had driven parents, good environment at the David Lloyd Slater Squad and 10,000 hours. His chances were always going to be good. His skill level was not that great compared to others in his squad but his parenting was a key.

I also think it is important to recognise certain sporting achievements as truly great and others not so. For example in a sport such as squash or show jumping the number of participants is now so low that to become a champion will not take the same degree of effort as say a tennis player, golfer or premiership level footballer…..IMO, although this could get me in the poo!. Sportsmen like Beckahm, McEnroe, Nadal, Woods, Schumacher are truly great achievers. Likewise in business, Branson, Gates, Jobs and Buffet

One last factor that is now essential is money…… And here ends my reply. Ciao!

Written by markgillett

September 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. mark,

    very flattered you took the time to respond so comprehensively to my note. You make some nice points here which reflect my own view and philosophy.

    I am not sure this is the correct forum, but I am intrigued by the comments you make about parenting both in this post and the last post. The frustration you feel as a parent in not wanting to be/appear pushy when you feel your child is not making the best of an opportunity, balanced with allowing them to find their own path and not use them as a proxy to fulfil your own sense of underachievement is very difficult.

    the labels which so easily get attached to children and which they then begin to relate and define themselves by can be so damaging.

    your comments about “long way” and “potential superstar” are also interesting, as it suggests that parents (in this instance) are promoting the activity as a road to fame and fortune, rather than for intrinsic value and enjoyment that can be found with any skill/sport/art. I am now (having tried the other way) very much at the “i do it because it is enjoyable” end of the spectrum, when it is no longer enjoyable I stop, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t include a lot of a hard at times, but i’m trying (and not always achieving) to stop looking for external validation of my efforts.

    off to waterstones as am now interested in your reference to branson, cold sociopath or insightful business guru ?



    September 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

  2. Hi Kes,

    I will address your points again only because its a close subject….

    Before I would like to express my beliefs are from experience as well as study personal. I take and took very seriously my work with performance sport and have formed many opinions based on literally thousands of junior tennis players I have been involved with since 1980. And their parents.

    Firstly I feel strongly that children do not primarily play sport because they love it or enjoy it. They love activity, especially boys but sport they learn to enjoy. Their instinct is, as with all baby mammals, to fight for the best “milk”. They do this by pleasing the parent and when they see the joy the parent gets from those first lesson, thus begins the circle of confusion….. Parents believe the kids love it and the kids believe that they are making their mummy or daddy very happy so enjoy doing whatever it takes.

    Many parents then get confused about what sport is all about. As a parent you enter your child into the arena of tennis, soccer, cricket or rugby, or one of the many other sports that are becoming so popular and you then try to convince them that enjoyment is the primary reason and that fitness and health are the next reasons. The child then gets confused as the reaction to any loss by the parent is usually out of proportion to the importance they initially put on enjoyment.

    The reason for playing sport simply is to learn to compete and win fairly and with honour. Thats it. As a by product and still a very important one is the learning of how to lose, deal with pressure, have the feeling if winning then losing and vice versa. It is impossible to win all the time. You also learn to enjoy all those elements if you work hard toward your goal but obviously the one that gives the most pleasure is of course winning. There is no doubt about that.

    I use to ask children what was the reason for playing tennis and 90% would quote their parents and say “fun” or “fitness” which was so sad really. I would then ask if they enjoyed losing. No one did!. Another question I would often ask was “when did you last play tennis?” and the answer was usually their last training session in their minds. It was not, of course, as the last time they played tennis was the last match they played – sometimes two or three months earlier. Everything else is training and not the sport.

    Its important to know that around 90% of kids on a programme are there for the activity and do not get too much pressure from parents other than to perform at their level of club or school sport but the other 10% are those who are very confused about what it takes to be a performance sports person.

    So that give you my take.

    As for finding their own path, I think this happens naturally when they become their own beings and not the being they are when trying to please their parents… Usually after their teens. I believe it is our responsibility as parents to give them good grounding, good opportunities without blurring the lines, so they can form their own direction… I also believe that when we see them forming their paths is the right time to start “pushing” or helping them achieve even if its different to the one you want. I had a girl on my programme who could have been extremely good. Had all the qualities, good parents, money and task driven. I wanted her in our academy. I sat with her, discussed her passions and it was clear it was on the athletics track not tennis court. I met the parents, and pushed her that way. I think her parents were more that way too. She became a high national runner at 800m within months – top 2 in the country at u13. What a relief sh no longer had to please her parents in two sports but just one and one she preferred and could concentrate on that. Later in ife she could always pick up a tennis racket and get better quickly if she wanted.

    Now back to my theory of pushing and performing.. It is those parents who push in the early years that usually end up with the superstar sportsmen later in life so this begs the question which is right. For me it is totally dependant on the family and if it suits and works to push, then do it. If you are not a pushy parent, don’t but do not expect wonders and do not blurr the lines. So when your child does not perform so well or seems less interested in an “opportunity” its only because it does not seem so important to the parent that they do not need to please them with total commitment.

    I think there is a lot of fulfilling ones own sense of underachievement but thats just life. The immigrant who lands in London with nothing will produce the next champion sportsman. Agassi, Sampras, Navratilova all good examples. The US rarely produced champions out of the good all American kid…. Even John McEnroe was the product of second generation Irish immigrants.

    The premise that parents see a road to fame and fortune, I am not sure I believe some might for sure but its the minority. For many just as a way to keep up with what everyone else does. Most people are sheep…. some because they have too much money, others just because…Many flirt with the idea of having a superstar but never really commit to it. I had a few who really thought their “little Johnny” could be a world beater on 8 hours a week. Thats just ridiculous. But I do believe that so many are plain clueless as to why they do it or just don’t give it much thought and any goal without purpose or reason is not a really a goal and will lead nowhere.

    You finish up with why you do it… Which is different to why your children do it and your reasons for them doing it so I will leave that one… You are adult enough to know why you do it… I hope that gives you a more detailed take on my behalf..


    September 25, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  3. Mark,

    thanks for taking the time for such a full response. In short you have given me a huge amount to think about both in my own motivations for taking part in sport and also my approach to child rearing.

    I’m not sure if it has been a concious decision but your blog posts over the last 6 weeks have been very direct and you have shared a lot of your own beliefs/views. It makes for very enjoyable reading and provokes a lot of thought.

    I now have much to reflect on, in particular not sure “I am adult enough to know why i do it” . Keep with the strong opionions,



    October 4, 2010 at 4:35 pm

  4. Hi Kes,

    I always enjoy you replies the most as they really make me think too. I like performance sport. I like the mind and how it works. I like the fact that the planet is made up of such diverse and interesting people. I also like to investigate why people do things….

    This ones is close to me as I saw so many children over 28 years in tennis get so much from the sport. The agony I saw was usually in the parents. I believe sport is an essential part of education for many reasons. Discipline, pressure, attention to task and so on. These are all life skills.

    I would like parents to see it that way too. I met hundreds who did. Many who claimed they did and then when you get the truth from the child – that they get a real grilling on the way home from a lost match – then you begin to see that people are not always what they make out to be…

    If you spend money on your child’s sport, see it as money well spent. Don’t use it against them when they lose a match or don’t perform to the level you expect. Most kids will try very hard for their parents.

    Happy reflections, mate and chat soon…..



    October 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm

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