So You Think You’re Special?



“When One teaches, Two learn.” This statement aptly sums up my experience conducting the ‘Coaching and The Growth Mindset’ workshop last week for Singapore Gymnastics. The coaches present were from culturally diverse backgrounds. There were coaches from Japan, China, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Singapore.

This group of coaches were particularly generous with their sharing (without going off tangent), and I learnt so much from them, especially when they related their experiences to the Talent-Effort Fallacy.

What is The Talent-Effort Fallacy?

After sharing the ESL (Effort, Support & Learning) Reflection Model with them, we went on to discuss about what prevents athletes from thinking in line with this model. Specifically, what are the mind traps that stops one from pursuing a goal that involves consistent Effort and Learning?

Even without any prompting from me, they (almost immediately) began to lament about the Talent-Effort Fallacy – the tendency for our society to perceive talent as something innate and that it can be “discovered”, and that our lives would be transformed once this talent is uncovered. This is exactly the sort of  thinking that undermines Effort and Learning!

Here are some extracts from the coaches sharing….

“Many of my girls seem to believe in princesses and magic, and that they are special. I suspect that they are waiting for some sort of magic to trigger their ‘specialness’. Perhaps it is only when you realize that you are not special, THEN only would you be willing to put in the effort to accomplish something special!”

We like to think of our heroes

Another coach added, “There is no magic and no secret, the Russians do not have a special method and neither do the Japanese nor the Chinese. The girls are trying to look for a secret to success. There is NO secret and you not only have to practice a skill a hundred times, you need to practice with maximum effort and focus every single time!”

“Do not confuse energy with Effort….” – Coach Hansen

Wait a Minute! Does that mean we should not tell athletes, especially children, that they are unique?

Well, most of us understand that in order for the Self to develop, it has to be able to define itself for its distinct qualities. Also, success does require one to be better than someone else in certain aspects. The challenge here is to help athletes understand their distinct strengths without breeding arrogance and entitlement.

When Carol Dweck advocated praising effort, she was trying to zoom in on the behaviors that lead to growth. She was advocating the necessity to attribute growth to what one does, rather than who they are!

When we believe in the Talent – Effort fallacy, it is easy to fall into the Fixed Mindset. Someone with the Fixed Mindset views talent as something that you either have or don’t, and that talent has some sort of genetic ceiling. Therefore, no amount of effort and learning can help you get past your ‘predetermined’ intelligence or abilities.

Coach Hansen


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