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Agility Challenge Tip #11 – Don’t fall for the prodigy myth

It’s so often that we think of talent as something that we’re born with, like the color of our hair, or the color of our eyes. We assume that the surest sign of talent is early,  instant, effortless success, i.e., being a prodigy. Basically, this is just not the case – there’s a well established body of research that shows that our assumptions about talent are just…false. Early success turns out to be a weak predictor of long-term success!

In The Little Book of Talent, author Daniel Coyle points out that many top performers were overlooked early on.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school varsity team as a sophomore. Charles Darwin was considered slow and ordinary by his teachers. Walt Disney was fired from an early job because he “lacked imagination”. Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Leo Tolstoy, Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball…the list is long! In fact, being considered a prodigy early on can be a DISadvantage – the attention and praise that early success brings can cause those who receive it to instinctively protect their “magical” status by taking fewer risks, which eventually ends up slowing learning down rather than facilitating it.

The talent hotbeds that Coyle looked at were not focused on identifying talent, but rather on building it, constructing it, day by day. They didn’t pretend to be able to predict who would succeed and who wouldn’t, based on early aptitude or success.

What does this mean for us as agility handlers and trainers? Well, two things – first, if you have early success, do your best to ignore the praise and keep pushing yourself to the edges of your ability, where improvement happens. And, perhaps more importantly, if you don’t have early success, don’t quit! Treat your early efforts as experiments, not as verdicts. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and “becoming talented” doesn’t happen overnight.


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