Some years ago it was not imaginable that somebody could capture more Grand Slam titles than the Maestro himself Pete Sampras. Different experts even represented the opinion that no players under 25 years of age will break into the top 10 because of technical and physical limitations.
Some people can perform at a significantly higher level than average. When champions wow their audience, it seems very easy for them. In the last months, we have witnessed Ruud, Rune and Alcaraz’s breakthrough into the elite of the best players in the world.
Are these players exceptional talented and born to perform on a high level or is there an apparent pathway possible to copy? And can ever a more normally gifted player, ever achieve such an outstanding level?
Human capacity is enormous. With the right motivation, great consistency and resilience many people can become very good at something. One of the world’s leading researchers on expert performance, the US-Swedish Anders Ericsson has tried to solve the mystery of why some people become so good at what they do.
Ericsson talks about; first, the necessity of 10,000 hours of intense practice – before the age of 20 – to reach excellence; then, about the thresholds, and about how important it is to surround yourself with people who move on, the invaluable classic trailblazers who go ahead so that the rest can follow.
Anders Ericsson says, that there is no real proof that talent is more important than the workload. Even the most successful have undergone extensive training to become by far the best. Ericsson’s studies show that all top performers have trained deliberately hard and long to reach their level. So far – so good!
So practice makes perfect is a cliché that can be underlined. But according to Ericsson, it is about how you practice, having a plan, and building up a lot of mental structures. It is why it takes so long to develop supporting mental structures – expert knowledge is a process.
Expert knowledge can be picked up both faster and more reliably. By having expert knowledge stored in long-term memory it is possible to process much more information, plan quickly and reason about different solutions and scenarios within the field of expertise.
An insulating layer around the nerve fibres called myelin is responsible for the necessary structural change of the brain at an early age. Research at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has shown that the more myelin that there is, the thicker the nerve fibres are and the faster nerve impulses travel.
The researchers found clear links between the thickness of the fibres and how much the individual had practised at different ages. The results suggest that myelin formation, which takes place in childhood, is stimulated by intense practice.
The study suggests that the earlier a child starts, the more likely he or she is to develop exceptional expert skills.
Nevertheless, you can’t force an interest. Without certain ease and physical, mental and motoric prerequisites it is much more difficult to muster the energy for all the hours that research shows are required to become the best.
Innate talent can be an advantage on the road to success – but deliberate practice with the right technique towards a specific goal will improve the game and give people an opportunity to develop far more than they thought possible.
On Richard St. John’s list of the 8 secrets of success, “hard work” is number 2, after passion. St. John says that virtually all successful people testify that hard work has been an absolute prerequisite for their success. Additionally, they emphasise that they love their job and enjoy working.
However, without specific prerequisites and „talent“ for a certain sport, it is probably not possible to reach the same level as the „more talented“. At a certain level, all athletes are gifted with such specific prerequisites and talent. Lets´ call it the X-factor.
Thus, success could be understood as a pure question of work ethic and passion but with all the „talent“ that you need for a specific task.
The wonderful thing about trying to become successful in something is the pure journey. It is the preparation, the goalsetting, the dreams and all that around the project. It is the partnership with people around you the magical moments of decision-taking, the tears and the laughter. It is so much more than work – it is life! If you don´t try you don´t know!
Finally, many people are expecting to discover their talent. Don´t it is something that you have to conquer. You will have to invest many hours of sweat, work and trust before you will know exactly what your talent is – your X-factor!