Recently I spoke with an elite-level athlete that I have known for many years about his thoughts on how much of his success to date was attributed to natural talent versus “heart” and hard work. Having always been the best player on his team growing up, I wondered how much of his success came because of being a “genetic lottery winner” versus his dire passion to succeed and be the very best. Interestingly, he was very honest with his answer and responded by saying that while he has always been one of the best players, his success was largely due to his God-given size, speed, strength and other related athletic gifts. In fact, because of our personal relationship, he was very honest and even revealed to me that he really never loved playing his sport, but he did it because he was good at it and he knew it would likely open some future doors (like a college scholarship).
Many people falsely assume that elite-level athletes all love their sport, and think about it all day, every day. While that might be true for some, there are others (like the example above) who learn early in life that they are pretty good at a sport, even if it isn’t what they love (or even enjoy) doing. As you might imagine, this can be especially frustrating for coaches (and parents, too)! All of this leaves me with the sport psychology question of whether others (i.e. coaches, parents) can instill drive, passion, mental toughness, and motivation into an athlete, who while athletically talented, doesn’t really love the sport?
I think most of us make the innocent mistake of assuming if someone is really good at something, they must also love (or at least like) doing it. The truth is this is not always the case. But how malleable are our personalities, and can we be encouraged and persuaded to eventually come to love what we are good at doing?
In sports, sheer athleticism will only take an athlete so far, as it is the combination of superior natural talent and a strong work ethic that allows athletes to advance to the college and professional sport levels. Without both (as well as some luck), even really good athletes will come to learn that it likely won’t be enough to continue on with a career in sports.
What do you think? Can you generate passion and conviction, or does it have to be there from the start?