I thought the nature-nurture controversy was over with, happily, nurture coming out on top.  However, I read an interesting piece recently about coaching football players.  It reported that, at a recent meeting of the Premier League Academy, there was a discussion about how to create players who were equally skilled with both feet.  One of the academy coaches apparently said, ‘Some kids are naturally two-footed and some are not. Coaching has nothing to do with it’. 

Of course, I wasn’t at the meeting (not surprisingly, no one seeks my views on soccer!) but if I had been, I’d have done my best to persuade the participants to abandon this defeatist point of view.  In fact, I’m astonished that anyone involved in coaching up and coming players could have so spectacularly shoot themselves in the foot (or even both feet!).  If being a two-footed player is natural, what about other skills involved in successfully passing the ball to someone on your own side and getting it into the right net?  Which skills are natural and which have to be acquired?  If they are all natural, what on earth are coaches for?  Surely, they’d be redundant and we could safely hand over to selectors to devise foolproof ways to check whether youngsters have ‘got it or not got it’.  Or, more ominously, commission geneticists to produce ready-made two-footed footballers!    

I think part of the confusion stems from fuzziness about the difference between talents, skills and strengths.  I have always maintained that a talent is a predisposition to do something well.  A skill is the ability to do something consistently well.  And a strength is a skill that, when applied appropriately, produces a near perfect level of performance.  So, talents that are developed become skills, and skills have the potential to become strengths. For me, talents are like rough diamonds that when mined, brought to the surface and cut and polished, become dazzling strengths.  We need coaches to do the cutting and polishing.

Looked at this way, talents provide promising starting points, nothing more.  A talent may well be an inherited predisposition, but if they languish, unidentified and undeveloped, they will never become skills or strengths.  We probably all have lots of latent talents – perhaps even to become two-footed football players – that we have never had to opportunity to discover or develop.  I appreciate that this is very much an optimistic, ‘half-full’ point of view, but surely it is preferable to the alternative; you’ve either got it or you haven’t? 

Human beings are born with a few vital reflexes, e.g. breathing, sucking and a brain that can learn from experience by making connections, but with a totally clean slate when it comes to knowledge and skills.  The latter have to be acquired through learning – preferably aided by enlightened parents, teachers and coaches.   

I have never learnt to play two-footed football (I’ve a mind to rush outside and start practising!) But then people would say depressing things such as, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.  Ah well, perhaps, without an enlightened coach, I’ll have to let that particular skill pass me by.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Geneviève

Add your voice

Enjoyed this article? Want to hear more? Book me as a speaker at your next event.

Blog Archives

By date By category

Learning is the only human capability that will never become obsolete.