Why Hard-Working Kids Typically Lose in the End

Working hard is an advantage because other kids don't do it. Until they do.

Posted Sep 12, 2018

When I was 14 I had potential. I was 6’2”, I was coordinated, and I played basketball.

Other coaches noticed. Because of my schedule, the volleyball coach and I crossed paths every day between 4th and 5th period. He convinced me to try playing boys volleyball. 

My first practice was an embarrassment. Not only did I have no skills, I didn’t even know the rules. To make matters worse, I was the only guy out there with no skill. Volleyball was big in my hometown, Santa Barbara. I stood out like a sore thumb. 

I didn’t know it yet, but I was the next in a long-standing annual tradition. Big basketball kids would come to practice for the first few days every year. They would play terribly. But you learned to hope they wouldn’t quit, because they usually had talent. The one guy who had stuck around the previous year was already one of the best sophomores on the team

If I had talent but no skill, my opposite was a kid I'll call Mike. He had been playing for a few years on the local club team. He wasn’t tall or fast, he couldn’t jump, but he had what I didn't: Hours of hard work behind him. He had skill but not natural talent. I had natural talent but not skill. 

As freshmen, Mike and I weren't all that different. By junior year, I was starting on varsity and Mike was riding the bench on JV.

If two kids are equally good today, one because of talent and one because of skill, the talented kid will always end up being better than the skilled kid tomorrow. 

It's a simple equation: Talent doesn't grow or shrink. You can't improve your height; if you don't have it, you don't have it. You can’t teach speed either. Or coordination. Or even jumping ability, not much. 

Skill is the opposite. It changes. You can improve. In fact, for a novice, improvement is inevitable. 

As Mike and I progressed through high school, what happened? My skill improved. His talent didn't. I caught up and then I passed him. 

This is why college scouts look for talent. They know they can teach the skills. They can't teach the talent, so they recruit it. 

The same is true with music. You'll have a kid who's driven to practice insane amounts at a young age. They are a better pianist than the more talented kid who plays piano but also goofs off and plays hockey. The hard worker is going to be better when they're both 10.

But there comes a time when the talented kid gets serious. They will start practicing hard. They will improve much faster. And they will blow the hard worker away. 

It's not fair, but you can't be the best at something unless you have talent and skill. If you don't have skill, don't worry, you can get it. If you don't have talent, well, you will eventually be surpassed. 

I should know. I had talent at the high school level. But at the college level, I didn't stack up. I took on the Mike role in the story. I was surpassed. 

Everyone gets surpassed eventually, unless you're a kid from Ohio named LeBron. You can postpone it, but as you go up the ranks, as more and more weaker competitors fall away, eventually you become Mike. 

The reason hard-working kids end up losing is because most kids don't work hard. If your advantage is that you work the hardest, that advantage is going to go away. The talented kids will start working hard eventually. They're going to surpass you and it's not fair. 

So, parents, don't push your kid when they're young. It won't help in the long run. All that skill they develop between the ages of 8 and 14, well...they can probably learn 95% of it as a freshman in high school. It's not worth it.

And parents, if your kid is good when they're little because they practice a lot, then don't expect them to be great when they're bigger. Practicing more than your friends is an advantage that's short lived. Once everyone's practicing hard, which they will start doing in their teens, your kid's advantage will disappear. 

I'm not saying this because I think anyone should give up. Don't give up! But do play for the right reason. Young kids should not be doing sports or hobbies (like volleyball and piano) because they want to be the best. They should be having fun.

If you try to be the best at a young age, you probably will. But you'll get your hopes up for your future. Then just watch. Other kids, who've been acting like kids rather than grinding, suddenly start working hard. And if you aren't as talented as them, they'll surpass you. 

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