Some people are good at speaking. Some are talented at art. And others are natural athletes. They all have that X-factor.

If 10 000 hours was a universal law, there would have been 100 Martin Luther King’s, 200 Pablo Picasso’s, and possibly 300 Roger Federer’s. But just as life goes, there’s only one of each. Why? Simply because they were innately good at what they did. They had the talent to be great, and built on it. It is often that talent does progress some people into initial success, which is the difference between someone who is a natural at the task and someone who relies on blind ambition. On the flip side, if you’re not born with the natural talent, it comes down to your hard work. For those that do not know what the 10 000 hours theory is, it states that you need around 10 000 hours to become great at anything, but as you will soon see, that is not necessarily always the case.

Which brings me to an experiment done in 1979, with a hundred tennis-playing children to test for athleticism. One girl was ranked as the perfect tennis talent. She beat everybody out in every tennis drill, while also beating them in general motor skills. She was the pure breed. Who was she? Steffi Graf, who went on to win 22 grand slams. The ongoing debate of “nature vs nurture” goes on all the time, and I’m here to tell you that nature plays a bigger role than most would agree.

If every person was given the opportunities that Pablo Picasso had to become a painter, would they all have became just as great as Picasso? Surely those that believe nurture is the only influence on becoming great at something, the answer would be more than one. But sadly, there was only one Pablo.

In the game of tennis, nature vs nurture was most clear when the game was in its early stages. John McEnroe and Brad Gilbert were both amazing professional tennis players but one thing separated them. Talent. When Mr McEnroe was supposed to be working on leg day, he was out eating hamburgers with his pals because his talent was enough to get him to the top of the game. While McEnroe was out eating, Brad Gilbert was out working on his fitness and becoming mentally more prepared, because he needed something to combat the superior talent of McEnroe. So he relied on other things to get him to the top. And it worked. But then what happens if every tennis player becomes a fitness freak and hires a coach for every subset of tennis? Well, that’s what happened 25 years later. Because along came Roger Federer. Probably the most gifted player to ever play the game; he has the record for both the most grand slams by any male in the sport and has spent the most weeks at the top of the game. If that doesn’t speak for talent, then Rafael Nadal did, by saying, “his DNA seems perfectly adapted to tennis.” But talent does not only refer to pure athletic capabilities, but also the talent to be a true champion, have mental fortitude. And that can be seen in Federer’s greatest rival, Rafa Nadal. Since the current game has become so global, getting by on sheer hard work no longer determines the best, as a result, nurture is no longer a deciding factor. So it all comes back to talent.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you will become great on pure talent alone, but to be truly great, some talent is needed to thrive. There is a balance between nature and nurture. The ten thousand hours’ school of thought has caused children of today’s society more pain than reward, with myself being one of those children. It gives people the false confidence that perhaps they will become  the next Federer, and put in the hours, but sadly don’t. A Danish studies on 243 athletes have shown that young adults while still in development, should play or commit to multiple sports because it broadens their muscle development. But as I fell for this idea, my parents were quick to take me out of it, because they cut straight to the chase. They said “You don’t have the mental ability to be great in tennis, you’re 15 and can’t claw yourself out of a match.” They were right, and sometimes brutal honesty is needed to bring us back to reality.

Success relies on both talent and practice, but finding your touch is perhaps just as important as having blind ambition. I am not saying that if you put in the work and have mindless perseverance that there is no chance, but in our global society, where competition for everything and anything is so high, you may need some innate talent to go along with that ambition.

Image Credit Sudhamshu, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic