Talent is Overrated

  • September 24, 2019

By Alexander Ketrzynski

I’ve based this short article on Geoff Calvin’s book, Talent is Overrated, and applied its core assertions to volleyball training.

“Practice” really does “make perfect.” Of all the elements contributing to the ultimate success of athletes, such as physical talent or IQ, the most prominent factor is proven to be the time an athlete spends practicing his or her sport. The amount of time practicing, however, does not simply mean repeating the motions of serve reception, setting, spiking, game tactics etc. To strive for perfection or greatness, practice needs to be “deliberate.” Being “deliberate” requires that you identify which areas of your game need improvement, and that you focus sharply on those areas, practicing them “ad nauseum” and with constant feedback. Volleyball is a team sport, so it may be challenging to attain this level of individual concentration and continuous feedback. Yet the number of ways in which we can strive for maximum practice and feedback are only limited by our imaginations.

During “official” practices, during a pause in activity, or during a phone conversation, ask any of your coaches to help you identify which specific area or areas you need to work on for both immediate and/or long-term success. Ask for as much feedback as possible. Your coaches may appreciate your request even more if you frame it in terms of wanting to help your team succeed. If this doesn’t work, figure out another way to get extra practice and feedback.  If you’re willing to look hard at your own performance, which means that you must not make excuses, it will become pretty obvious when you’re shanking passes, when your hitters are having trouble with your sets, or when you’re having trouble hitting certain sets, etc. If you can’t get immediate feedback from someone else, I suggest you provide it yourself by being mindful of what happened during your last attempt, and prepare to correct yourself for your next attempt.

I feel it’s absolutely necessary to be corrected, as well as to correct yourself without  blame, even if your coach is being negative. Blaming or berating yourself takes your mind away from your main objective, which is to perfect the skills you know you need to concentrate on.

Calvin identifies a key factor in bolstering motivation that you may not have thought of before. He calls it the “multiplier effect.” If you see yourself  as being even a bit better than others at a particular skill, it motivates you to work harder on it, which in turn increases your proficiency and motivation. This applies especially to skills that you have developed despite coming from behind, and which you have deliberately worked to improve.

Thus far, I’ve been discussing “official” practices only, but the number of ways you can gain additional practice are limited only by your imagination. You can play or practice in absolutely any situation—for example, at a casual “pickup” game or intramural league offered at lunch at your school. Away from a court you can toss the ball to yourself to perform any volleyball skill on your own.  I suggest finding a wall so you don’t end up mostly chasing a ball.

Watch videos or read articles by and about the greatest players in the world. Attempt to emulate or surpass them. I suggest that you are never too young, or too unskilled to benefit from attempting to incorporate the most advanced information available. Even if you can’t touch the top of the net yet, get an image of Michal Kubiak, one of the very top outside hitters in the world (and also one of the shortest), who is continuously beating the most powerful triple blocks in the world. You’re not likely able to copy or surpass him for a long time, but you will have an idea of what outside hitting looks like, and that will guide your journey.

One of the best things about this approach is that you’re also never too old to take advantage of it.

Lastly, celebrate even your smallest achievements. This will continuously drive you forward. Celebrate them even if you do it quietly or privately in your own mind. Squeeze every bit of joy you can out of your time on and off the court, and from whatever else you do.

Alexander Ketrzynski is currently associated with the Pakmen Volleyball Club, and father of three sons who are also passionate about the game. He was a member of the 1984 Canadian Olympic Men’s Volleyball Team.