The Myth of “Talent”

So I finally decided to borrow Bounce by Matthew Syed from Jeff. Before picking it up I thought it was similar to Relentless by Tim Grover. They both touch on similar issues but in the end they are worlds apart. Grover trained both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, stating that what made them so great was their relentless approach to the game. They refused others to determine how they would perform on the big stage. He touches on their unparalleled preparation and hunger to do nothing but win.

I took a lot away from Grover but Matthew Syed’s belief that all things are possible under the right scenario hit home more for me. Syed was a two time Olympian Table Tennis athlete who you can imagine was extremely skilled and “talented”. You would think that an athlete of his caliber would accept the praise and move on. Not at all, he’s actually does the opposite with this book.

He believes that the right scenarios in his life were what attributed to his success, not some genetic ability that he was born with. He sites that he became great because his parents purchased a professional style table tennis for the garage, he and his brother both had an avid interest in it, the PE instructor at the school was a scout and instructor for the sport, and there was also a club that was available for him to join. Mixing all these things into the fact that Syed worked hard with purposeful practice and training, he was able to cultivate the skills needed to become one of the best.

He adds that if he had lived in a different district he would not have had the needed elements to do what he did. I now tend to agree with him and the belief that talent as we know it is a lie. These are my words not his. I believe that we have interests from an early age, and we do things based on those interests which lead us to get better.

For example, I was always told that I had a talent for drawing and writing. I remember my chest puffing out and feeling good about myself, but looking back at it, it was just an interest. Because of that interest I drew and wrote more. Every piece of work I attempted and finished was more time practicing and training. I didn’t come out of the womb drawing well; just like every other child I was drawing horribly. Neither was I writing anything that was worth reading by anyone at an early age.

What was different about me than other children was that I had an honest interest in what I was doing, so I kept doing it. In doing that repetitive act I got better at drawing a curved line, a nose, a smile, an eye, a head, then a full face. I don’t know how many hours I’ve logged in drawing cartoon faces in my life. I’ve never been trained but I got good at drawing cartoons, but you know what I wasn’t very good at? Drawing hands, feet, and life like art. I didn’t have an interest in any of these things so I never practiced.

The most detrimental aspect that Syed covers about “talent” is that if you believe you don’t have it, you won’t believe you are capable of it. It’s a built in excuse not to excel or even try. People in general, myself included, will shy away from their safe zones so we can continue to be viewed as “talented”.

I bring this up because it’s important to know that no one in our Jiu Jitsu community is more talented than anyone else. Everything is dependent on purposeful training and reps. It’s about the amount of time you are putting in and with who? There are times where I can’t make a regularly scheduled class like some of the other students but I’ve found training partners who give me the right resistance and feedback for me to learn from. We usually don’t waste time chatting it up which allows us to jam pack as much into a session as possible.

If you are not making the gains you would like, take a step back and look at how you are training. Perhaps you need to restructure your schedule in order to make it to a fundamentals class or find additional training with a darker belt color.

Remember Jiu Jitsu is for everyone, you included. You are just as worthy and as “talented” as anyone else who has ever stepped on a mat so train like it.


Purple Belt Jiu-Jitsu practitioner

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