You'll need more than talent if you're trying to make your way in sport
I was at the U13 County rugby festival on Sunday and it was a very interesting day. Lots of interest in boys, ours included, from watching interested parties and I can't tell you how many times I heard the words, "powerful, strong, talented, super-talented, aggressive" being used to describe individual boys across the day as I walked up and down touchlines.
It struck me that it is very easy to lose sight of the fact these boys being talked about are 12 and 13 years of age.
So I just wanted to get something down that both applies to athletes generally but obviously has a young bias given what I saw on Sunday.
Firstly, in your young athletes and I am talking about young athletes here, don't worship physical talent at a young age. It is a very poor indicator of long term success in sport. I have seen too many really powerful kids turn out to be just that and nothing more.
In rugby and football I am astonished at the age at which pro clubs are scooping kids up and putting them into programmes. I am involved with a lot of young athletes in pathways programmes across a wide variety of sports. Personally I think these two sports are getting it wrong in terms of entry point.
Don't be overwhelmed by the 13 year old physical talent that towers over your boy.
At such a young age, yes let them be the player they can be but also teach them about good nutrition and hydration, how important sleep is and what good core foundations are along side their sport. Also though, focus on building character, values, respect, integrity and discipline. All the things as a human being that we know will underpin their success in sport and life. We have to build the right environments to temper all this potential achievement.
Will talent get them to the very top on its own?
Simply no it won't. I can pretty much guarantee they won't make it if that's what the dream is for you and them. Bad attitudes, lack of commitment, disrespectful mannerisms will all culminate in failure regardless of talent.
All those other things I talked about in terms of foundations are what need to sit alongside the talent with a huge helping of consistent ongoing commitment.
You can't tell from watching someone perform in sport as a child if they have these qualities and desires to sit alongside the talent. You have to spend time around them. You also have to remember that they are a child.
So it isn't the talent that is the defining quality for me. It isn't the power or the strength. It's their commitment to the craft and learning that will put them in good stead and has to sit alongside the talent. That and being able to demonstrate consistent discipline, humility, respect and integrity around everyone they come into contact with. The power and strength will come.
I would also say that these values need to be engraved and demonstrated by coaches consistently also. It is after all how we learn. By doing.
So if you're a young athlete and you are reading this, ask yourself this question. If you're a parent, do the same of your athlete. I saw some very powerful boys playing for sides on Sunday that didn't demonstrate anything other than that in their behaviour. I saw some very shoddy behaviour from so called coaches as well. Have a think about it, whatever your sport. Think about the long term and give yourself and the athletes in your care every chance.
Which are you? (If you are the athlete you will need help from family and coaches in answering what qualities you display.
1. No talent, zero commitment. 2. Loads of talent, zero commitment. 3. Not untalented, loads of commitment. 4. Loads of talent, loads of commitment.
Don't lose sight of why you fell in love with your sport. If you are developing athletes at home or in a sporting environment, please try to think wider than the pitch, lane or court.
Talent is important but so is commitment and a big bag of other values.