Anthony Ervin

Talent: For When We Can't Explain

Talent. it's a word that we somehow cannot escape in sports. People define and use it a lot of different ways. It's meant to describe someone's "natural ability" for something, that when combined with a process of improvement, provides a crude formula for performance.

For the purposes of this post, I want to talk about a slice of that definition that is particularly troublesome. Talent is often assigned to individuals after the fact. We look at somebody who has already performed well and declare that they are "talented". Too often, this designation distracts us understanding the process by which that person gets better.

Take Anthony Ervin. Countless people have told me how "talented" Anthony is. He's a good example, because the talent description is more frequently given to sprint swimmers. If you read Anthony's book, you'll find a lot of frustrated swim coaches. They couldn't get Anthony to be "with the program".

The implication for many would be that Anthony Ervin did not work hard. In fact, his book lays bare that Anthony had a very different process for improving his swimming. I think many people did not understand this process, but I don't believe that talent takes you to a gold medal in the 50 free.

So, the next time you are considering a fast swimmer and their "talent", challenge your assumption of their natural ability. Admit that maybe, just maybe, there is something about the process by which they became fast that you do not yet understand. 

As coaches we have so much to learn from swimmers. All throughout coaching I hear the quote that "there are many ways up the mountain" to describe the different ways coaches coach and still have successful swimmers. What I believe is that swimmers can find many aways up the mountain, some of which we as coaches didn't even think were possible.