Tip #11 in Daniel Coyle’s book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips For Improving Your Skills is, “Don’t Fall For The Prodigy Myth.” As part of a program I am working through I reread The Little Book of Talent. I am a fan of Daniel Coyle’s work including The Talent Code and The Culture Code and had read The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips For Improving Your Skills a few years ago. We were tasked with identifying the Tip that resonated most and share why.
While there are a lot of great tips in this book the one I chose was, “Don’t Fall For The Prodigy Myth.” I viewed this concept from two lenses, the personal lens and the trainer’s lens.
The Personal Lens
It is easy to fall into, or stay into what Carol Dweck Ph.D., author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Successcalls the Fixed Mindset. This is when you believe that your intelligences and abilities are something you are born with, you either have it or you don’t. This is reinforced by all the talk of “the natural”. The natural athlete, the natural communicator, the natural leader, and the list goes on and on. This is the “Prodigy Myth” Daniel Coyle warns about. If you have this mindset then you do not see the value in putting in the effort and doing the work as you will obviously not get any better in those areas where you are not “naturally gifted”.
If however, you adopt the Growth Mindset and choose not to buy into the prodigy myth or the myth of the natural, you accept that if you are willing to put in the work, engage in purposeful and deliberate practice, be open to feedback and critique and accept that struggle and friction are part of learning then you can enhance your skills and abilities in a given area. This belief can change your life and the trajectory of your career.
The Trainer’s Lens
I have see too many trainers who believe they can look at a group of new recruits and some how pick out the one’s who don’t have “it”. When pushed, they cannot define “it”, the ever-elusive set of physical attributes that will somehow show on Day 1 of the Academy who is cut out for this profession. In some cases these trainers then set about during the first weeks of the Academy to “weed out” those that do not have “it”. There is nothing on Day 1, or the first weeks of the Academy that will be guaranteed to show who has what it takes. Coyle shares the story of being at the US Olympic training Center in Colorado Springs and asked a group of 50 experienced coaches the question, “Could the accurately assess a top 15-year-old’s chances of winning a medal in games two years from then?” Only one coach raised their hand; a women’s gymnastics coach where the athletes typical peak close to that age. You cannot tell Day 1 or Week 1 of the Academy who is going to be a great cop, and that is not your job. Your job is to give them everything you have as a trainer and coach to allow them to be successful. Part of that mission is to help those who are stuck in a Fixed Mindset to make the shift to a growth mindset. And yes, they have to do their part and be willing to be coachable and to do the work.
I encourage you to make the time to watch the movie Greater, the story of Brandon Burlsworth, possibly the greatest walk-on in the history of college football. (I watched it on Amazon Prime) Pay attention to all of the people he encountered who did not believe he had what it took, and pay attention to the high school coach and the college coach who took the time to invest in him and provide him with a path to achieve his goals if he was willing to put in the work. Brandon had a Growth Mindset and was willing to put in the work and be coachable in order to improve and make his dreams a reality.
Take heed of Dan Coyle’s advice and, “Don’t fall for the prodigy myth.”
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