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How to destroy (or develop) talent - a case study

12 May 2015

A post by

Firstly, sorry for the lack of posts recently...I got sidelined with another project that took up all of my available writing time. Anyway, I'm back and will be back to posting every friday again!

 

I wanted to share with you a video of a young rugby player who goes by the name of Tyrese Johnson-Mitchell.  The video is from Tyrese playing in the semi final of the U15 Natwest Schools Vase competition and features him scoring 4 tries. 

Pretty impressive stuff huh? Clearly the boy can play...

 

What was interesting was the response on social media..here are a few excerpts below 

 

 

Most of the responses were pretty positive but there was a theme that I noticed. The responses were either from the 'wow this is great, what a talent, lets really get behind him' side of the fence or were from the 'I have seen loads of lads like this, he is just big for his age and when everyone else catches up he won't be anything special' camp. 

 

Who is right? Probably both of them, but both of them could just as easily destroy this player's talent with the stances they are taking. This is what I call the 'Double edged sword of talent'.  

 

Let me explain...

 

Those wanting to throw adulation and praise on the player will think that they are building his self esteem and confidence and helping him to avoid being dragged down by the 'negative haters'' that only want to pull people back down to their level when they show promise. 

 

This is a natural response but it could just as easily be 'killing him with kindness' by putting across a message that this player is so good that he is now on a natural trajectory to greatness which may well carry with it a subminal message that he doesn't need to work hard to get better. (It may also have the effect of sending out a more serious message to others in his age group that they aren't as good now and therefore won't be as good in the future). 

 

On the other hand there are those that want to say that he is just a freak of nature who is more physically gifted for his age than his peers and that we shouldn't get too excited about him as he will be caught up in time and will then just be mediocre. 

 

This overly 'deterministic' stance is equally dangerous as it can limit the belief that he has the potential to achieve something. It says that he is only good because he is bigger, stronger and faster than his peers and his abilities are an illusion, he is 'fools gold'. 

 

So it seems that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't right? 

 

Not necessarily...

 

The problem with these 2 positions is that they are too focussed on the future...one is saying that the 'sky's the limit' while the other is saying 'don;t be fooled, he won't be that good in a few years'. 

 

They should be focussed on the here and now...the message needs to be "you are doing well, you are showing promise, that is good, what have you learned today that will help you to get better". 

 

It is tempting to view talent as a some kind of magical glimpse of the future but, in my view, this is where we run into trouble. By placing too much emphais on the outcome it is all too easy for us to take kid's minds away from the all important process of improving day to day and then letting the outcome be what it will be. 

 

That's why I am so passinate about moving away from the flawed concept of 'Talent Identification' towards which is based on making guesses towards a future outcome towards a model of 'Talent Development' which is much more focussed on process. 

 

I would welcome your thoughts...

 

 

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