Natural Talent vs Learned Skills

Talented, naturally talented, skilled. These are words that we hear often when describing athletes. What do these words actually mean? I want to explain the differences between them because people often get them confused and the implications are important.

Natural talent refers to attributes or abilities that you are born with. Height is the most notable and most "pure" natural talent, meaning there isn't much you can do to influence it. Yes, diet matters, but assuming you have a normal caloric intake and have access to nutritious food, which most people do in America, you will grow close to your potential. A 7 foot tall basketball player can be said to have a lot of natural talent, at least in regards to his height, since height is very helpful in basketball.

Then there are many other traits that people are born with but need more effort to fully develop. Size is an example of one. Some people are "built" with "bigger frames" than other. It is easier for these people to put on muscle than other people. This type of natural talent is beneficial for athletes such as lineman in football. However, these people still have to work hard in the weight room and eat a lot of protein in order to "fill their frames." This means that their size is a result of both natural talent and work ethic.

Another trait like this is speed. Some people are born with more fast-twitch muscles than others. This gives them greater potential in speed and agility. But just like with the example of size, they still need to work hard to develop this speed. Endurance can also be this type of natural talent since some people are born with more slow-twitch muscles than others.

Another important trait influenced by genes is coordination. Some people are born with better hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills than others. Again, this is a trait that must be trained to fully develop.

Mental abilities such as intelligence and self-control also fall in this category of natural talent that must be trained to fully develop.

Remember, even if you are born with less natural talent than others, you can still train very hard to gain muscle, become faster, and improve your coordination and inteligence, although your "ceiling" will be lower than others.

Lebron James is an athlete often described as naturally talented. He has many of these attributes and abilities that I've just mentioned above. However, many people forget that he has trained for thousands of hours to maximize his natural gifts.

Furthermore, people often make a second mistake in confusing skills with natural talent. People may watch Lebron make a spectacular three pointer and say "Wow, he's so naturally talented." This is wrong. Shooting a basketball is mainly a skill, not a natural talent. Yes, natural talents such as strength and coordination influence 3 point shooting, but no one is born knowing how to shoot very well. Shooting is a skill that must be trained for hours upon hours to learn and master. So many things in sports fall under the category of "skills" rather than natural talent. The list includes:
Shooting basketballs
Dribbling
Passing
Rebounding
Throwing footballs
Catching
Offensive lineman blocking technique
Kicking
All tennis strokes
Batting
Boxing techniques
Intangible skills such as leadership, sports IQ, and mental toughness
And so much more

This is why so many people can become successful athletes. Skills can be learned and developed by pretty much anyone with an able body. You have complete control over your development of skills. You can choose to put in the work to learn and master any skill. And since skills matter so much in sports, people with average or even below-average natural talent can still become successful athletes.

Lebron James is both very naturally talented and very skilled. When you describe an athlete, you can simply say the word "talented," which is sometimes used to mean the combination of both natural talent and learned skills. For instance, the Golden State Warriors are the most talented basketball team, due to the combined natural talent and learned skills of their roster. Your talent, or your combined natural talent and skills equals your total value as an athlete.

 As you can see, it is very important to know the difference between natural talent and learned skills. Knowing this difference helps you better understand how certain athletes become successful. You will know which traits come from genes, which traits come from work ethic, and which traits are influenced by both. Understanding this helps lead to a growth mindset, since it helps you realize that much of athletic success is under your control. On the other end, it also makes you realistic since it helps you understand your limitations.

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