Talent Is Overrated

On February 16, 2011, in Instructional, by Emmet Gibney

Talent Can Take You Places, But Not That Far...

Talent is something that we look at as mystical and unexplainable.  We look at these special people who somehow excel at different things with seemingly minimal effort.  In this case we’ll obviously be looking at talent and how it relates to badminton.

Over the course of a number of generations of badminton players we seem to pay special attention to those players who appear to demonstrate exceptional “talent”.  They excel at a young age and seem well ahead of their peers.  The current generation of young phenoms that we are paying the most attention to are Viktor Axelsen from Denmark and Ratchanok Intanon from Thailand, the boys world junior champion and girls world junior champion respectively.  Both players are very young and are starting to show promise at a senior level very early and as a result they garner a lot of attention.  This attention is well deserved, however I think that these types of players tend to develop a certain mythology around them and their “talent”.

Back in the late 90′s the hot young player was Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat.  As a 17 year old he made the final of the All England Championships and surprised the world with his rapid ascent to the top of the badminton world.  Hidayat has always had a reputation of being a lazy player and that he does not work as hard as his counterparts as a result of his talent.  I would argue this to be yet another case of mythology.  You can almost be certain that as a younger player Hidayat played far more badminton than his counterparts, and was no doubt obsessed with the game at a young age.  The hours of work he put into the game would probably astound most of us.

In spite of the exceptional “talents” that have played the game of badminton it is rare that we see someone that is so much better than everyone else.  Even Lin Dan is not invincible in spite of the aura he seems to carry around with him wherever he may be playing.  He loses, and he does so regularly.  Even in the years where he was “dominating” he was not unbeaten.  Also, as far as “talent” goes many would argue that a player such as Lin Dan is not as naturally gifted as Taufik Hidayat or even his compatriot Bao Chunlai who’s shot execution is beautiful.  Something that Lin Dan has above most others is his willingness to push himself in spite of reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

What does all of this mean for you?  Chances are you’re not on the cusp of international super stardom, and if you are thanks for reading our website :)  If you’re a local competitive player, or you just play in your club league you can still learn a thing or two here.  The point that I’m trying to make here is that we often look at talent as some innate characteristic that we are either born with or not, and if we weren’t so luck as to win the genetic lottery then our destiny is decided.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  The most important thing you need in order to win is grit, otherwise known as determination or hard work.  That includes hard work on a day to day basis for your training, and also from point to point when you are playing.  You have to be willing to make things as hard as you can for your opponent.

I have tried to delude myself in the past into thinking that I was talented and that meant I didn’t need to work as hard as other people did.  Big mistake.  The hard workers are the ones who slowly but surely creep up on you, and before you realize it they’ve passed you.  Good luck catching up to them too, because they aren’t going to let up.  Sure, maybe you can improve faster than them if you put in the effort, but when you’re fighting from behind it’s a very daunting task.

So many players who excelled at a young age tend to fall off as they get older.  As 12 year olds they crushed everyone because of they’re “talent”.  Things got closer as they hit 15 or 16 years old, but they still managed to pull out the wins because of their “talent”.  Then they hit 17, 18 and finally the adult categories where their “talent” stopped being the gift it once was, and instead becomes a curse.  How could talent be a curse you ask?  Because after years and years of people telling you how good you were without you needing to push yourself, suddenly you need to work hard and you don’t know how.  The older you get the more competitive badminton gets and the same can be said of life in general.  The best thing you can do is teach yourself how to work hard.  Alternatively you could just wait to enter the masters, but chances are you haven’t been taking care of your body if you don’t know how to work ;)

I’ll leave you with an old Chinese saying about hard work:

No man who rises before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.

Work hard my friends, and success is only a matter of time.

17 Responses to Talent Is Overrated

  1. Mike says:

    Good point, but still it is a little too sweet, bodytype is something that you cannot change by working hard! Also IQ is important, and can only be trained to some extent!

  2. Emmet Gibney says:

    I’m 5’7″ or about 170cm tall, and I am very stocky. My body type is not good for singles, but I’m a fighter so I do better than I would otherwise. I’m not saying that you can become the best in the world simply by working hard. What I am saying is that you can only become the best YOU CAN BE by working hard.

    As for IQ, I can probably give you several examples of successful athletes who were not very intelligent, even within badminton. This is again within reason.

  3. Mathieu says:

    Totally agree with you Emmet. In fact, I think that discipline, determination and motivation are also a form of talent as they give a big advantage to those who have theses characteristics and those qualities are not given to everyone (not everyone is actually happy to train hard everyday, but those who do have a big advantage over the others).


  4. Peter says:

    I started badminton on late 2009 (was like 31 yrs old then), and progressively become a better player (not good enough for club level though). During the early months, I spend like 5 hours a day, training myself to get a feel of the game.

    Now, I play like 3 hours a day (about 5-6 matches each time). It’s through all these “play” that I learn more about myself, my opponent, ball flight pattern, tactics, deception, etc.

    One thing about badminton with a bunch of friends is that everyone progress at the same pace. Whenever we have a new strategy and win, it would be obsolete by the week after. We have to keep on planning, trying out new stuffs, work on basics…

    To enjoy, we have to work hard.

  5. GS says:

    body type is something you cannot change right, but you can train it hard to suit the sports game if you put in so much discipline and concentration.

    Lionel messi has a short and slightly long legs since young but look what he has achieved despite his age. Lee Chong Wei doesn’t have a good natural fitness as well but look how much he has put in in his training to become the world champion today.

    I can’t agree more with the article, any sports game is all about hard + smart works, training. Talent helps you to read the game faster and knows what to do, in the end it is hard works that help you react faster.

  6. I fully agree with you Emmet, It is a good advice especially for those “telented” young players. I have seen too many of them stopped their progress or even became worse performing as they grow because of over confidence. Train hard and work hard in court will no doubtedly reward in better performance. In addition, it is also important to have a good coach or team mate who can point out your strength and weakness and help you with the correct technique.

  7. dave lemette says:

    Hm, don’t really know what to make of this article. What is it saying? If the message is: “,Talent is no guarantee for winning matches.” then I could not agree more. If the message is “Talent is no excuse for not working really really really hard”, then yes I fully agree. But talent is a genetically inherited capability or characteristic for or of something. A person’s flexability or speed of reaction can be trained to a certain extend. And yes, this can very well be far above the capabilities of other, untrained, players. Physical characteristics are genetically inherited. However it is possible to train to compensate for any deficiencies or to optimise usage of any physical benefits.
    If you have a talent, in whatever way, then that is a blessing. It’s like a gift. In order to unwrap that present though and to be able to put it to full use, thAt is hard work. So with that in mind I don’t think talent is overrated. I do believe however that the amount of work to win and win a lot and specially at high levels is underestimated. A bit of talent does help tough.

  8. Mel Wyatt says:

    I think this article has done what it set out to do: get us all thinking about what ‘Talent’ means.
    In educational circles, there are adherents of ‘The Theory of Talent’ and ‘The Theory of Practice’.
    The Theory of Talent says that those talented are born with these talents, and the rest of us can never hope to match them.
    The Theory of Practice says that ‘Talent’ comes from long hours of ‘Purposeful Practice’.
    I recommend ‘Bounce: How Champions are Made’ by Matthew Syed, an ex-olympic table tennis player who was thought of as ‘Talented’.
    This book correlates what we believe are inherent ‘Talents’ with environmental factors. Those thought of as ‘Talented’ often do fail when they make the jump to senior level: what was all to easy becomes hard work, and many fail to live up to expectations – they become disheartened because they believed they were ‘Destined’ to be winners. Often it is their training partners, who were not as talented, and have always seemed to have to work hard just to make the grade, who overtake their more talented counterparts: they are conditioned to expect to have to work hard to achieve.

  9. PBLasimbang says:

    Used to believe in talent but after observing successful people in any discipline, I agree that it is hard work and focus/working smart that make us excel, as in the book outlier and bounce

  10. Toby Ng says:

    I’ve actually read Geoff Colvin’s book of the same title: Talent Is Overrated (Find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-Separates-World-Class-Performers/dp/1591842247). Colvin takes different research in different things, such as music, chess, and of course sports, to find that the thing that really separates the top with the rest is the amount of practice. However, he defines practice as “Deliberate practice”, meaning it’s the kind of practice where you would almost take a certain thing and do it many, many times and hence, accumulating many many hours of practice. It’s the repetitive, boring, and not fun at all kind of practice. There is also some evidence that the making of an expert is ten thousand hours of deliberate practice in addition to world-class coaching, to develop the proper technique consistently. It’s a very good read and I would recommend it if you are interested about the subject. Though the book is meant more for business, the general guidelines pretty much can follow for anything.

    Also, 10 000 hours is a LOT…

  11. Mel Wyatt says:

    Hi Toby,
    I am with you mate! The Ten Thousand Hours is part of Matthew Syed’s book. To him, your phrase ‘Deliberate Practise’ is the same as ‘Purposeful Practice’,
    It is late here in the UK, but tomorrow I am going to check out that book: I guess it raises the research of Lazlo Polgar???
    PLEASE read Matthew Syed – it is more based around sport, but from what you have said, I think it is saying basically the same thing.
    Talent is good, but determination is better.
    We are who we make ourselves – genetics is secondary.
    It gives hope and understanding to those of us who are not ‘talented’, but think that hard work pays dividends.

  12. Emmet Gibney says:

    Ironically I do have the audiobook version of that book, and yet I titled this post without remembering it existed :)

    I would pay close attention to Toby here everyone, he’s almost certainly well past the 10,000 hours required for mastery seeing as he’s currently ranked 21 in the world for mixed doubles ;)


  13. Mel Wyatt says:

    Don’t worry Emmet – I doubt the publishers will sue ;-)

  14. Toby Ng says:

    @ Mel Wyatt:
    I will definitely take a look at your book as well!

    @ Emmet:
    Actually, I have ball-parked my hours and I think I’m still maybe 2000 hours short of that mark. Perhaps if I continue on for 2016 =P

  15. Mel Wyatt says:

    @ Toby
    Have ordered Geoff Colvin’s book today: cannot wait for it to arrive!
    From reading the reviews, I think Matthew Syed’s book probably covers a lot of the same ground, but it is always nice to get someone else’s take on the subject.
    Matthew was an olympic table tennis player, and draws on a lot of his own experiences to reinforce some of the tenets discussed in the book. If you do get arund to reading it, why not post your review?

  16. Toby Ng says:

    Hey Mel,

    I’ll see what I can do because I’m off to train in Korea for 6 weeks. If I can find a copy of it in time, then I could try, but I have a feeling I’ll be busy feeling that “Ageing Bodies” article =P

  17. Mel Wyatt says:

    If you’re training in Korea for six weeks, you will be lucky to pick up yourself, let alone a book!
    Have a good one and stay injury free!

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