Talent is universal. It lives on your street, in your neighborhood, in your city, in your town or your village. It breathes heavily across every country and every continent. I certainly know that physical talent exists. It’s fairly obvious. Go to any park and watch a group of young soccer players and you will notice that some are better than others. Some will have a better first touch, a greater vision for movement and a more accurate eye for goal.
Growing up I myself played with young golfers who found the game easier than I did. They picked up a club and ripped the ball down the middle of the fairway. Their handicaps tumbled down quicker than mine. They drove the ball longer and holed more putts. I found the game phenomenally difficult – I don’t think Rory McIlroy does and I don’t think he ever has! The traditional view of talent is a physical one.
A soccer player who shows a deft touch, an eye for a goal, or a vision for space is usually declared talented. The 13 year old who scores 50 goals for her team is labelled talented, as is the 16 year old who makes her debut for her National Youth team. However, I’m going to offer you my definition of sporting talent. It may not be dictionary perfect but it’s my take on natural ability. Talent in sport is the demonstration of appropriate physical behaviour and appropriate mindsets.
Talent doesn’t just comprise of the young soccer player who excels from the get go, seemingly without trying. That is physical talent, which accounts for only one type of aptitude. Talents are packaged differently and there is an accompaniment to physical talent that also exists. That is what makes up the rich tapestry of life as we know it – especially in the world of sport.
My view is that talent also includes mindset. Mindset skills comprise of areas such as focus, confidence, discipline, motivation, self-awareness, self-management, desire and dedication. The list could go on and on! Mindset talent is crucial in determining a player’s ability to acquire physical skill over time – in the medium to long term – enabling a footballer to transit easily from one age group to the next, from youth team soccer to adult soccer.
Mindset talents also influence physical behaviours in the short term – how consistently they are displayed and whether they function effectively under pressure. All well and good to be very skilful on the training ground, but the player who shudders with fear come match day soon has a sharp fall from grace. The concept of mindset talent is one the soccer coach must grasp if he is to develop a creative coaching culture.