A talent is a natural capability – something more hard wired. We often know we have a talent in something because it comes easy to us. It’s something that we pick up how to do quickly compared to others. By the way, talents expand far beyond athletics to the world beyond. Some people have talents for anything with numbers, spacial relations, human interactions, words, acting, etc.
A skill is something learned. We can all learn a skill. We won’t all be equally good at that activity. For instance, we can learn how to do math problems, put puzzles together, use communication techniques or performing techniques. The person with a talent in those areas will do it faster, better or with less effort than the one who has less talent but learned the skill.
Someone with a natural talent will progress faster in that discipline than someone who doesn’t have that talent. However, the fascinating thing is that there is also a point at which you can no longer “live off your talent”. Someone with less talent and a higher work ethic, smarter tactics and/or the mental disposition to sustain effort longer will win out over the talented person.
The most vivid place I see this is in youth runners. Certainly for one, they mature at different rates. Early bloomers dominate early on. However, it isn’t long before I see so many “average” runners outrun “talented” runners who are trying to get by living off their talent. They continue poor training habits. They got by on so little training previously. This scenario is repeated in the transition from high school to college levels.
I’ve seen runners who “shouldn’t be able to run that fast” or “shouldn’t be able to beat so-and-so” do just that. The reason is just what I’ve outlined above. It is for these reasons any runner should not bemoan the fact that they are not as naturally gifted as someone else. Within your control are the most important variables of dedication, persistence, sound tactics, mental fortitude and training smarter. It is for these reasons that when novice and experienced runners alike ask me how fast I think they could run – I turn the question back on them. The question is what are you willing to do to run faster? What are you willing to change in order to improve? (You can’t continue doing the same thing and expect different results!) What can you and will you do to reach your goals?
I’m an optimist. I believe that everyone can improve – talented or not. As for me, I’d rather coach the coachable, high-work-ethic runner, willing-to-learn runner than the talented one who is uncoachable, wants to slide by and has all the answers.