10 things that require zero talent, are you sure about that?

Gordon MacLelland OF WORKING WITH PARENTS IN SPORT DISCUSSES THE ASPECTS OF SPORT WE ARE IN CONTROL OF AND HOW WE CAN NURTURE IT.

At a variety of points over the last few years this subject continues to do the rounds on social media, used by coaches to get certain messages across to parents and others and passed on to children as though they should all be able to do it.

My guess is that the original message was very much based around 10 things that we perhaps have a greater control over than some of the things that we can’t control.

In many of our workshops we talk to parents about investing our energy on things that we can really control and not on those things that we are not in control of. We cannot control if our children are going to become professional sportsmen or women as there are too many factors so far out of our control.

Both parents and children are not really in control of injuries, selections, genetics, how we go through puberty, peer pressure within a group to name but a few but can perhaps control the environments that nurture some of the skills that have been listed above.

The problem is that all of these skills that so call require ‘zero talent’ need effectively nurturing by parents, teachers and coaches and are supported by the environments that they create for young people. No one can doubt that all of these are extremely valuable skills that we would all want our children to have and would allow young people to thrive in whichever walk of life they choose to go and are vital in performance programmes to ensure that we are creating multi-faceted individuals.

Our initial reaction when reading the list as parents or coaches is that this makes sense, but do they require talent? Of course, they do.

Anything learned is a skill both physically and mentally and if people think they are easy to learn, why does everyone not possess these traits?

Neil Warnock the Middlesbrough manager yesterday in the press when discussing bright hopeful Djed Spence said, ‘Djed could end up playing at the top of the Premier League or in non-league.’ He says the full-back has “all the tools” to play at the top, but “application and dedication” will determine how Spence’s career plays out. Yet we expect young players to just instantly possess these traits.

We would all like to see young people with a great attitude but what does that mean to them? Have we ever spoken to them about it.

Sport undoubtedly provides one of the safest and best opportunities for a lot of these skills to be developed if the emphasis is also being placed on them by coaches and reinforced by positive messages around them coming from home. Many of these skills may fall by the wayside if everything is too results focussed and not enough time is invested in the processes making up the performance.

‘First ask how much passion and perseverance you have for your own life goals. Then ask yourself how likely it is that your approach to parenting encourages your child to emulate you. Your children will be watching you.’ (Grit by Angela Duckworth)

We often talk about how parents on the whole have the biggest influence over their children and their behaviours, whilst recognising the impact that can also be made by teachers, coaches and relatives. We also know that the biggest achievements made by young children are when coach/parent or teacher/coach are working together to deliver the same consistent messages and behaviours.

If this is the case, the responsibility we have as parents around our children’s sport is huge as our children will be watching and listening to us.
All of the behaviours that we exhibit, what we value, what we say and how we deal with situations will be taken at face value by our children and likely repeated. How many times in sport have we heard statements come from a child’s mouth and we think, ‘you can’t have come up with that, who has put those words into your mouth?’

Children inherently take their cues from parents. We help them develop how they should feel about the world and others, the manner in which they interact, and the beliefs they carry. We shape their system of thought and action with our own.

Think about what you want your child to see and hear, how you want them to behave and how you want them to perceive the world. Remember they will be watching and listening to you for their cue!

As our children grow, become teenagers and end up in sporting environments, some in performance pathways or in the professional game then we would hope to see a lot of these traits on a regular basis. However, even then it can be more complicated than that as we will not see it from everyone every day.

‘Don’t you know these things require zero talent? How dare you not adhere to this list every day. How dare you experience low mood, anxiety, a drop in confidence, self-consciousness, perfectionism, vulnerability, frustration, doubt, worry, confusion…come on, you MUST do these!

You can certainly expect them but due to their complexity you won’t see them every time. You’ll see them more when players develop the skills (eg life and mental skills) that improve their ability to demonstrate them.’ (Dan Abrahams)

We are often asked by parents, ‘how do I know if it has all been worth it?’
Well we have finally come up with the answer that if our children are equipped with the following set of skills and that is our focus as parents during the sporting experience, we will have certainly raised some very well-rounded individuals.

Of course in our workshops we discuss how we can help support these skills as a parent and that is a blog for another day but the reality is that as parents as we watch a week of training and a performance in a competitive situation that if we see these skills more often than not there is a good chance that their performance will have been of a really good level regardless of the outcome.

I challenges parents, coaches and teachers that the next time you see this list ‘10 things that require zero talent’ and think children should just have them to spend some time and explain what they are, what it means for them in their context and how by developing these skills it may have a positive impact on their life, well-being and what they go on to achieve.

Most importantly, model these behaviours on a regular basis and when you see your children or the people you coach display them, reinforce and celebrate them from the rooftops! These young children will then know that these ‘talents’ are important and that you truly value them and see their importance as a key part of any sporting experience.

Gordon MacLelland is the CEO and founder of Working with Parents in Sport, which supports parents and coaches in working together to provide children with the best possible sporting experiences. To find out more about their work please visit www.parentsinsport.co.uk.