Talent vs Practice: What is more important for success?07/29/2021 | Written by Nikos Kaskaras in Swimming Lesson Tips
It's a sequence of those “eternal” questions: What is more important for succeeding in life? Is it talent or hard work that makes us progress? Can we prosper by relying on just one of them? Getting an insightful approach would be beneficial, not only for swimming purposes but also for our overall development and evolution. Let's try to break it down.
The different definitions of success
First of all, we shall point out that there is not a single definition of success. Success means different things for different people all around the world. And this is how it should be. Take Ian Thorpe, for example. For the legendary Australian swimmer success was winning as many gold medals possible at the highest level: Olympic Games, World Aquatic Championships and so on. Thorpe though was a world-class swimmer combining rare talent and hard work ethic. On the other hand, would it be realistic for an average swimmer to define success with the same terms as Ian Thorpe? It's a rhetorical question of course, which highlights the importance of measuring success according to our unique traits, skills and personality. Not winning an Olympic medal does not make us losers. What seems to matter most is realising our inclinations and reaching our potential. Involving in favourite activities and doing the best we can are significant prerequisites for living a meaningful life.
What is talent?
Defining talent is not as easy as it sounds. Because it's a multidimensional and intangible concept there could be different interpretations. A widely accepted definition of it consists of two parameters:
- A special often athletic, creative or artistic aptitude
- General intelligence or mental power
Talent thus can be either physical or mental. In its best form, there's a combination of the two, although it is one of the two that prevails in most cases. One of its most valid indicators is the time it is revealed: The younger the age, the better. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most influential composers of all time, began composing his musical pieces from the age of five. Ian Thorpe was just 14 years old when he won his first major swimming race, becoming the youngest-ever individual male World Champion. Of course, these examples exceed the average definition of talent. Both Mozart and Thorpe were exceptional. Their case though indicates the great significance of talent in success.
Practising is essential for success
“If you fail to practice your art, it will soon disappear,” says a German proverb that describes accurately the role that practice plays n success. Ian Thorpe makes a very good example on that occasion too: When he was a young child, Thorpe was allergic to chlorine. What did he do to overcome the issue? He swam with his head out of the water! Can you imagine how hard for a seven-old year boy should be to swim using such a paradox style? It would feel totally exhausting and extremely stressful. Yet, Thorpe won his first race using that technique. To perfect it, he spent numerous hours of practice. For most people, managing to compete in a swim race keeping their heads out of water would be an impossible task. For Thorpe, it was his first major challenge and the hard work he put into it produced fruitful results. Bottom line is that practising is essential for reaching success. This is a law in life and applies to all fields of life. The popular 10.000 hours rule is probably the best example to use.
The 10.000 hours rule
The argument was made by Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist, author and public speaker, in his book entitled “Outliers”: It takes 10.000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. That's about 14 months. Gladwell's argument was based on the research of K. Anders Ericsson who was an internationally recognized Swedish psychologist. For his research, Ericsson used three groups of violinists. The first group members were elite-level violinists, the second was average, and the third group was the least good. Although almost all of the violinists started playing at the same age (five years old) the major factor that made the difference was the number of hours they spent practising during the following years of their lives: This was 10.000 years for the elite level, 8.000 hours for the somehow good violinists and 4.000 hours for the lowest level. That's how he concluded that 10.000 hours was the “magic number” for reaching the required level of expertise. His assumption became quite popular all around the world in different fields. From sports to business a widely growing number of professionals was inspired by that rule, despite the scientific objections expressed.
The talent vs practice debate
Let us now get to the 1 million dollar question: Is it talent or practice that determine success? The debate is heated and ongoing. Can you become a master in any field if your talent is not outstanding? Is it possible to excel in life if you don't put in a great deal of hard work regardless of your talent? Let's go back to the great Mozart. In a letter to a friend, he wrote: “People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.” Such unpretentious words from such a genius.
The Beatles paradigm
The field of music gives us another great example: Before the Beatles became legends, they went to Hamburg as a high school band. The conditions they met were far from ideal: Underpayment, terrible acoustics, indifferent audience. Nonetheless, they kept on playing live shows non-stop. By 1964 they had played more than 1,200 gigs as a band. This kind of practice and experience got them better before they became the most popular group in the world.
Most examples in life seem to confirm our concluding thought: When talking about life achievements, talent is essential but practice is crucial. Hardworking individuals may perform better than more talented ones, who don't work hard. We could find such examples in our social and work circles and take useful lessons. Moreover, it's only through constant practice that we can find out our limits. In all cases, knowing that we have put all our efforts into reaching our potential is what matters most.
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