Does Hard Work Really Beat Talent?

May 10, 2013 | Steve Green

Ichiro Suzuki hustling

When a team is the underdog or just being lazy, coaches love to throw out the phrase: "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." (We can all blame Kevin Durant; see 35th Hour, Episode 2: Hard Work Beats Talent.)

You've probably heard it so much you're sick of it. I know I was. I never considered myself an extremely talented athlete, but I worked hard. Yet that never resulted in victories, or even more playing time. No Rudy-esque story here. So every time I heard that quote, it made me a little upset—especially if my more talented teammates were not working as hard as I was.

I was totally prepared to write off the old cliché as just another thing that coaches say. However, first I decided to take a closer look at a couple of truly talented individuals to see what I could learn from them.

The first professional athlete who came to mind was Kobe Bryant. He's a fierce competitor, in the same category as Michael Jordan. In Dave McMenamin's ESPN article, I read that after a tough loss to the Miami Heat, Bryant went back on the court for extra practice. McMenamin described it as having "encapsulated Bryant's reputation as being wholly dedicated to the game."

Note 1: Kobe Bryant, one of the best players of his generation, gets in some extra practice after a regular season game.

After Bryant, my mind wandered away from athletics to Franz Liszt, a 19th Century pianist, composer and conductor. OK, I admit it's a stretch. What can a dead musician teach us about hard work in sports, right? From all accounts, Liszt was a child prodigy who became one of the most accomplished pianists in the world. By the time he was a young adult, he was recognized as a musical genius. But Liszt was extremely dedicated to his craft. He apparently practiced up to fourteen hours a day. After taking years off, he rededicated himself to touring, and "Lisztmania" swept the world, cementing his legacy as one of the most talented musicians of all time.

Note 2: Franz Liszt, a musical child prodigy, never quit practicing even when he reached the pinnacle.

What can two men in two such different fields, separated by decades, teach us about hard work? Simple: although both men were top performers in their fields, they never stopped practicing and always rededicated themselves to their craft. For Bryant, it meant taking extra jump shots at midnight after a game. For Liszt, it meant returning to touring and taking a continent by storm. Both Bryant and Liszt, as talented as they were, realized that someone else would follow them. Someone is always waiting to take your place. If such great performers made the decision to work hard and continue improving, everyone should follow their lead.

It's frustrating when you're always hustling and one of your teammates is dogging it, yet he or she gets the start while you sit on the bench. But if you were to stop working hard, you'd only disappoint and hurt yourself. You've got to remember that you're out there playing your sport to better yourself. You're on the team because your coach saw something in you that added value to the team. A big part of it could have been your dedicated work ethic.

So, does hard work really beat talent?

No, hard work should never beat talent, because talent never stops working hard.

Read about more talented athletes who credit their hard work:

Steve Green
- Steve Green is freelance writer specializing in athlete performance and the college recruiting process. An ACE-certified personal trainer and a Level 1 Sports Performance Coach...
Steve Green
- Steve Green is freelance writer specializing in athlete performance and the college recruiting process. An ACE-certified personal trainer and a Level 1 Sports Performance Coach...
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