We all want our children to do well. That is why we send them off to classes to explore art, sports, music, etc. We encourage them to try out for sport teams and school-sponsored shows and events. We spend our hard-earned money to get them involved in things we feel will help them discover and pursue their natural talents more. However, what often happens is we stop too soon. As soon as we see our children fail or lack the talent to master something quickly, we tend to steer them away from it altogether and often walk away. In fact, how many times have you heard parents say, “they just aren't good at it” or “they weren't born with it?” Unfortunately this is often the case.
What most parents don't understand is that talent is something our children don't have to be born with. Talent is developed over time through practice. Parents are so conditioned to believe that they need an inborn gift for a particular field and if it isn't immediately clear that their child possesses that gift, they give up. It's important for parents to let their kids know that anyone can do anything, they just need to put their mind to it and not give up too quickly. Practice, not talent is often the secret to success.
As Dr. David V. Schapira, the author of Fetus to Fifth Grade states, “It is important to understand that practice and effort are more crucial than talent. Too often once a child initially fails parents feel it implies that the child has insufficient talent and should therefore give up. The opposite is true. This is when you should practice more so you can master it. Parents should encourage their children to continue on and dedicate the time to do well. It is also important to motivate them. A parent and coach's role makes a difference in a child's confidence level. Research shows that those children and students who were praised for their efforts rather than their talent improved their performance by 30%.”
So what exactly is talent? Talent is the ability to attain levels of performance that most people cannot attain or indeed come close to. This level of excellence is seen in all fields of the arts, sports, science and literature. In fact, Geoff Colvin discusses a study of musical talent conducted by a group of researchers lead by John Sloboda at the University of Keele in England in his book. They studied 257 students who had been introduced to music. They were classified into five ability groups. The top group was admitted by competitive audition to a music school; the lowest group of students tried an instrument for at least six months, but then had to give it up. The researchers interviewed the students and their parents in detail. When they examined the level of accomplishment of the students, they did not find evidence of precocious musical ability even in the top group.
However, the one factor they did find that made a difference was how long they practiced. For students to be admitted to the elite school of music it took a total of 1,200 hours of practice. By age 12 the students in the elite group practiced an average of two hours per day compared to fifteen minutes of practice a day in the lowest group. The elite student practiced eight times longer each day. So it does go to show that practice makes the difference in success.
This was also explored in a book by Matthew Syed in the chapter “What is Talent.” It was said that “An investigation of British musicians, for example, found that the top performers had learned no faster than those who reached lower levels of attainment: hour for hour, the various groups had improved at almost identical rates. The difference was simply the top performers had practiced for more hours.”
And you can't forget probably one of the greatest examples, Mozart. Mozart began composing at five, gave public performances at eight, and produced hundreds of works, some of which are widely acclaimed, before he died at 37 years of age. Mozart's father, Leopold Mozart, was also a famous composer and performer and importantly an outstanding music teacher, who no doubt encouraged his son to work hard, keep trying, and practice, practice, practice. Mozart's first work that was regarded as a masterpiece was his Piano Concerto No.9, which he composed when he was twenty-one. Although twenty-one is young, Mozart had been training extremely hard for eighteen years. Certainly his accomplishments were not the result of innate genius, but the product of nearly two decades of extremely hard work.
Dr. Schapira also states in his book, Fetus to Fifth Grade another true example of perfection being the Miami Dolphins season in 1972 when they won every game including, of course, the Super Bowl. They were coached by Don Shula who coached “over learning” to the players. It involved over preparation resulting in limiting the number of goals players worked on, cutting down on players practice errors, making players master their assignments so they could operate on auto-pilot, and operating on a philosophy of continuous improvement. The players would complain “none of the teams practice this hard” or “other teams don't wear pads this often in their practices.” The philosophy was that you play at the level of your practice and certainly that year practice made perfect.
So how much practice do you need? Matthew Syed is quoted as saying, “Extensive research it turns out has come up with a very specific answer to that question from art to science and from board games to tennis. It has been found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task.” It further states, “An analysis of the top nine golfers of the twentieth century showed that they won their first international competition at around twenty-five years of age, which was, on average, more than ten years after they started golfing. The same finding has been discovered in fields as diverse as mathematics, tennis, swimming and long-distance running. The same is also true in academia. In a study of the 120 most important scientists and 123 most famous poets and authors of the nineteenth century, it was found that ten years elapsed between their first work and their best work. Ten years, then is the magic number for attainment of excellence.
What does this mean for parents? It shows that parents do a disservice to their children when they give-up too quickly. Let your children find something they enjoy doing, let them practice and practice and see all they can accomplish. It takes a lot of hard work and deliberate practice and there are no short cuts, but the main factor that will drive them is a passion for what they are doing. If they love whatever they are engaged in, that love and the passion, more than makes up for the sacrifices.