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When talent is not enough – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 20th September 2017

September 20, 2017
Ballard what sets you apart victory


When talent is not enough

A year ago I celebrated a ‘special birthday’ and last weekend a very significant wedding anniversary. At times such as these, I find myself thinking back over the years and remembering significant friends and acquaintances. One such person came to mind from my school days – let’s call him Charlie. He was a superb sportsman and was in all the first teams and excelled at rugby (what we called ‘rugger’ in those days) in particular. My public school in Scotland has turned out many rugby international players over the years and it seemed that Charlie was destined to follow suit. Indeed he played for the Scottish Schools and went on to win a single senior ‘cap’ – and that was it as far as I knew. More recently I met up with an acquaintance from our era at school and asked him about Charlie. He told me that whilst he clearly excelled at school, once he reached the international stage he found himself as just one of many very talented players. Stiff competition and injuries came along and the opportunities then passed him by and he never competed at the highest level again.

Inspiring speeches

I recently attended a speech day evening at King Edward’s School, Southampton, and heard Dr Steve Bull speak. As a chartered psychologist, Dr Bull has worked as a ‘high performance coach’ with, amongst others, the British team at three Olympics and the England men’s cricket team for 17 years. He has seen some of the top athletes and most talented performers in sport of all time and yet, for him, it wasn’t an individual’s gifting which singled him or her out. Jimmy Anderson (the England cricketing fast bowler), for example, appeared relatively ‘ordinary’ when he was first capped in 2003. There were, seemingly, more talented bowlers around him at the time and no-one picked him out to become England’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time. Alistair Cook, also still in the England Test team and now amongst the batting ‘greats’, was similarly regarded as talented but not outstanding when he began his cricketing Test career in 2006. Dr Bull mentioned JK Rowling (rejected time and again by publishers with her first Harry Potter book) and Sir James Dyson (five years and 5,000 prototypes before setting up his own company to deliver his product).

What sets you apart?

Attitude, character and resilience

So, what sets people such as these apart if not their talent and creativity? Dr Bull emphasises three key characteristics that he has seen triumph time and again: attitude, character and resilience. He urged us to learn from failures and to dwell on our successes – honing those things which we do well and persevering in the process. To take Alistair Cook again: there are 15-20 recognised batting strokes in cricket. Cook has mastered only four of these but he has practised them to perfection in order to maximise his potential. Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, puts it like this:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Never give up

And so back to my own reminiscing: I was generally in first teams at school for sport (just) and I remember in my final term (what was called ‘third year sixth’ in those heady days) being coached 7s rugby by Ian Robertson, himself a Scottish international and now a BBC commentator. An opposition player passed me with the ball heading for the try line and, realising I couldn’t catch him, I slowed down. Ian Robertson gave me a real ‘roasting’ for giving up even though things appeared lost. His words still ring in my ears and whilst I haven’t gone on to sporting greatness, I hope his admonition to show a positive attitude, a steadfast character and to demonstrate resilience have stood me in good stead nevertheless. (Now there’s a good word – ‘nevertheless’ – and may be the subject of another blog!).

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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