In all sports people love talented players. If we are soccer fans we admire Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. Crazy for basketball? LeBron James and Steph Curry are on the top of the list. Tennis has also several prodigies. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal come to mind as first options. There is no doubt that all of these players are categorized as talented but what does it really mean? Does LeBron James have the same skills as Roger Federer? Why all of these players get to the top? Let’s find out where the answer is.
Tennis coaches love to look for talented players. Talented players have bigger chances to guarantee results so there is no surprise that coaches want to work with this type of athletes. Short-term success is a tempting opportunity to boost own ego and build your name in the fastest possible way. That is why tennis academies offer scholarships for players from different countries and smaller clubs create „Talent-identification” camps to „catch” promising players at the earliest stages. There is nothing wrong in these and other actions but the problem is that many coaches refer „talent” to wrong factors.
What do you think about when you hear word „talent?” Most of us have a picture of a player with great technique, making small amount of mistakes and being better than most competitors at his age or even older. If we will try to categorize all these skills it is not hard to decide that we are talking about technical aspect. I agree – technique is important in developing successful athletes but it is just one part of complex process. Let’s not forget about other aspects like tactical awareness, psychological abilities and solid physical preparation. Without quick decisions you will never beat solid opponents. Not being able to play your best under pressure? No way for winning big tournaments. Are you really tired after beating rival 7/6 in the final set in the first round? Your physical preparation has a way to go if you want to get to the top.
As we can see there are a lot of factors that have impact on player’s development. If we want to look for talent we have to keep the bigger picture in mind. Good forehand won’t guarantee repetitive wins if our backhand is our liability. The same happens with other factors. We can be able to run for 4 hours without any special fatigue but if we get stressed before the match and we can’t cope with that our so-called „talent” won’t make us fulfill our potential.
Probably you already know where I am heading. There is no reason to look for talent in areas like technique, tactic, physical preparation or mental skills. All these abilities are important but talent is not there. As a tennis player you have at least 25 to 30 years of playing experience (as a professional, as an amateur even more) so you have to look for talent that will help you go through this journey, get better at all stages and win as many matches as possible. I know what the word is. Do you?
The real talent is … consistency. Yes, consistency. Look at this skill from the long-term perspective. As a tennis player you have to wake up early every day to start training. To develop solid skills a lot of repetitions are needed. Losing more matches than you would like to? Your ability to bounce back every time and motivate again to hit hundreds of balls with good quality is the only way to move forward day by day, tournament by tournament. This is the real talent. Players who show up early on a consistent basis are the ones that we should look for. Players who don’t give up after missing 10 shots in a row should catch your eye. Athletes who are the worst in the team but they are working harder than anyone else should be your thought while creating a team for the next year. That’s it – talent revealed.
Maybe this is a surprise for you but please don’t judge immediately after reading this article. Take few minutes, maybe hour or even a whole day and try to think about real essence of athletic career. What does it take to love sport and work really hard for 20-30 years? What will decide who will be the greater player at the age of 28? Great forehand at 10 or heavy consistency at 15? People love to find good-looking strokes but talent is not as easy to detect. Great things in life are not easy so be the one to take a little bit more time and long-term perspective and maybe you will find the diamond that everyone else was missing.
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 100 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.