Ode to the Untalented

by adrianne on March 21st, 2011

I’m not an athlete. I wanna make that clear. When I grew up I was much more interested in playing Nintendo than I ever was about playing sports. When I ran the mile in grade school the teachers sent other kids after me to try and make me run faster so I would finish it before the period ended. I did do some physical activities growing up, we had a trampoline, I did some martial arts, horseback riding, American Gladiator reenactments with my brother, usual kid stuff, but I was never one of those kids who got their black belt in gymnastics while driving from soccer practice to tap class.

Just because I don’t currently have the grace and strength that some possess doesn’t mean I can’t develop it. I think we all fall victim to thinking some people are born with a magical ability called talent that we lack. In reality learning a skill has less to do with aptitude and more to do with working your ass off, we just tend to work harder at the things we’re good at.

Mario Kart

I'm still trying to find real world applications for what I'm good at.
Photo by: Rob DiCaterino

The always enlightening authors of Freakonomics shed some light on this subject with a story about soccer players. They discovered most of the players competing in the World Cup were born in the early months of the year. This brings the obvious question of why a date on the calendar separates pro athletes from regular people. What they found was when the pro athletes were kids they were the oldest in their classes because of school registration rules. Because children develop so quickly those few months would have given them a physical advantage over their peers. They weren’t inherently better at soccer than the kids born in later months, they were just encouraged to practice more because of their temporary physical advantage. It was hat extra practice determined their success.

We’ve been operating on this myth that you can’t acquire skills you aren’t good at or that it’s too late to develop them once you’re all growed up. At 29 years old and not exactly in peak physical condition it would be remarkably easy to walk into my parkour class full of 18 year old six packs with dudes attached to them and say I’ll never be able to learn this. Granted it can be frustrating when they all instantly fly over obstacles and I keep ramming myself into them Wile E. Coyote style.


Sometimes I think they have hollow bones like birds.
Photo by: Mouser Williams

Sure most those guys are probably stronger than I’ll ever be and many of them have years of athletic training that I’ll never be able to catch up to, but I’ll also achieve some things I never thought I could. There are even rare occasions that I do surprise myself. I can do a decent handstand, I’m fairly agile and my balance is better than some. But the best feeling is when I finally do something never thought I’d be able to when I started. Finally clearing that vault I’ve tried jumping over a hundred times or making it to the top of the rope I couldn’t even climb when I started.

We can all do more than we think we can. So no more whining.

3 Comments listed below... leave a comment

    Matt StrattonNo Gravatar
    on March 21st, 2011 at 8:46 pm
  1. There’s a whole book about this by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers. It’s awesome.

  2. adrianneNo Gravatar
    on March 21st, 2011 at 8:49 pm
  3. Man that was quick. I just posted it!
    Statistics can be surprisingly inspiring.
    I’ll have to check that one out if I ever get through my never ending reading list.

  4. Tessa AuzaNo Gravatar
    on March 21st, 2011 at 10:19 pm
  5. I second the Outliers book!

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