Natural Talent: Expectation vs. Reality

Courtesy: Rudo Loock

With the Tokyo Olympic Games finally around the corner, we have the opportunity to watch the most talented individuals in the world battle it out for the right to be crowned Olympic champions.

When you hear the word “natural talent,” who comes to mind? We all have at least one person that we can think of that has “natural talent.” Then again, the term can have many different meanings. What do I mean by that?

When we talk about natural talent, we tend to focus on someone’s ability to perform a specific task. When someone completes a task with extraordinary ability, we say that they have a natural talent for that particular task. However, most of the time our expectations for an athlete with natural talent, couldn’t be further from the truth.


When we see top athletes compete to be the best (especially at the Olympic Games), there is always somehow one that stands out above the rest. We quarrel with ourselves to understand what it is that makes them that good. Sometimes we can’t wrap our minds around their superhuman performances, and the only rational explanation is that they have a natural talent for what they do.

In our subconscious mind, we believe that those athletes were born that way. They have always been the best at what they do and always will be. Sometimes we do find athletes just like that. They have always been at the top of their age group and continue to perform well past what people thought they were capable of. However, one thing is for sure. They did not go that far with talent alone.


A while back, I wrote an article called, What Does It Take To Become An Elite-Level Athlete. In that article, I mentioned one specific point that has always stood out to me:


I have seen many highly talented athletes come and go throughout my swimming career. All of these athletes have always been at the top of the age group growing up. However, this is where they faltered.

They had the idea in their minds that they will always be the best. They don’t need to work hard to beat their peers. What happened when their peers finally began to catch up? They quit because they didn’t know why it happened or how to deal with it. Let’s look at a hypothetical situation for a better understanding:

John and Kyle are both track runners. They both run the 100-meter. John has always been better than Kyle. He outran him every single day at practice, as well as competitions. As a matter of fact, John outran the whole field by a significant margin. However, it began to go to his head. He thought of himself as unbeatable and too good to show up to practice every day. While John had this crazy idea in his head, Kyle never gave up and kept showing up to practice. Every day, he would put everything he has into his practices. Then, they met again after several years. This time it was on the big stage. This was the Olympics. The 100-meter final finally came up, and both Kyle and John stepped up to the starting blocks…

What happened next is up to your imagination. We are all talented individuals. That is why we do what we do. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to who is willing to work harder for what they want. Who is willing to put down everything they believe in to chase success.

Yes, talent will always play a role, but it can never be the sole contributor. Talent needs to be accompanied by passion, hard work, and perseverance to make a real difference.

If you are at the top of your age group, this is your reminder to continue to work hard. The work never stops, no matter how good you are. It won’t always be easy to stay on top. Remember, everyone below you is chasing you. They will come at you with everything they have, and if you let them, they will beat you.

To all those working their way to the top, never give up. Put in everything you have into every practice. Your time will come. You just have to keep grinding.


My name is Rudo Loock and I am from South Africa. I was blessed with an opportunity to go swim for Florida State University. I am a 4-time ACC qualifier and one time NCAA qualifier. After battling many ups and downs throughout my career, I now aim to share my knowledge about the sport’s physical and mental side through my personal blog at with the rest of the swimming world.

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1 month ago

so how do you beat a talent who works hard?

Mr Piano
Reply to  sjejdbdbf
1 month ago

Bob Bowman once said that the true mark of a champion is not necessarily one who wins again and again, but the one who strives to do the best that they possibly can. Not everyone can be David Popovichi or Claire Curzan, but they can be themselves.

Reply to  Mr Piano
1 month ago

Yes! I love this

Reply to  sjejdbdbf
1 month ago

You put your head down and work harder and continue to believe in yourself. Good things will come.