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russelscout

The "is there talent" debate on Flo

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I have been away for awhile, but I can't leave a good debate untouched. Listening to the recent FRL discussions of talent I couldn't resist commenting on it and I wonder what you guys think.

First of all, Ben does something in this discussion that really disturbs me. He continually ensured the audience that he has done a ton of research on this as a reason for why he is right. That is not an argument. In my opinion it comes from a place of insecurity saying "I know my points don't sound great, but trust me, I know the truth".

Bens argument is that there is no talent because all people have different skillsets they are born with. It is up to the individual to optimize the skill sets that are strong and build the ones that are weak. Therefore there is no distinct advantage in being born as someone with more fast twitch muscle capabilities if you can both develop that and optimize something else like flexibility or spatial reasoning. This is a flawed premise. It assumes that applicable skills are divvied out at an equal amount, and as long as you can develop those skills that or weak and optimize those that are strong you can be great at anything, which is not true. He also says you need to factor in what the play as a child, and then puts it on everyone else to prove that its not a thing. First of all, he needs to defend the argument he is making, not put it on others to disprove his theory. Also, is he denying genetics?

He doesn't want to use 100m dash or track in general where genetic advantages are clear. Ethiopian long distance runners are not the best in the world because solely based on their play when they are younger. It may play a part, but their genetic make-up is ultimately what separates them from the best in the world. This predisposition to a high Vo2 max could be described as talent. It is an advantage that comes from genetic selection.

Ben wants to limit the discussion to wrestling only when that point gets brought up. He says that the complexity of the sport allows for different skillsets to come into play. This is true. There are more variables at play. However, it does not account for the person who is given very little in any of the skills that he lists. This unlucky recipient could do everything possible to become the best wrestler in the world, but he will always be playing catchup to those who are more talented. Even if that person is able to get substantially better, there are still limits in time and eventually entropy will come in to play. Ben falls victim to the cliche of hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard, but any time I hear this I always think, "What if talent works hard?" Further, what if someone hits the genetic lottery, has strength, speed, flexibility, mental toughness, etc. at a higher degree than most? That person would be described as talented wouldn't he? I fail to see how someone who won the genetic lottery could ever lose to genetic loser if all other things are equal.

The fact is, at the highest level of athletics natural selection does come in to play. Michael phelps is the best in swimming and he also has the ideal body for the sport. I could have never beat him no matter how hard I tried. He is just too talented. This isn't to say Phelps didn't have to work as hard, or that I could not have been a great swimmer in my own right. Hard work most certainly comes in to play, but it is not mutually exclusive. When all other things are equal, a natural talent will win the day.


Yes, wrestling is different, but there are some skills that are more favored over others. Some are just more talented. I think Ben has fallen victim to the survivorship bias. He so badly wants to say genetics and luck are not a thing, likely out of ego or its just the coach in him, and he will analyze all of the best to prove his point . However he fails to recognize those who never reached a high level despite tremendous amounts of work; those who lacked the necessary talent.
 

I may sound like a broken record as I have recommended the book the Sports Gene by David Epstein multiple times here. It is a well sourced book. I would honestly be surprised if Ben hadn't read it and I'd be very interested to hear what he thinks of the examples given by it. For those who want to read more about this specific topic it is a really good one and a fun, easy read.

Edited by russelscout

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5 minutes ago, russelscout said:

I have been away for awhile, but I can't leave a good debate untouched. Listening to the recent FRL discussions of talent I couldn't resist commenting on it and I wonder what you guys think.

First of all, Ben does something in this discussion that really disturbs me. He continually ensured the audience that he has done a ton of research on this as a reason for why he is right. That is not an argument. In my opinion it comes from a place of insecurity saying "I know my points don't sound great, but trust me, I know the truth".

Bens argument is that there is no talent because all people have different skillsets they are born with. It is up to the individual to optimize the skill sets that are strong and build the ones that are weak. Therefore there is no distinct advantage in being born as someone with more fast twitch muscle capabilities if you can both develop that and optimize something else like flexibility or spatial reasoning. This is a flawed premise. It assumes that applicable skills are divvied out at an equal amount, and as long as you can develop those skills that or weak and optimize those that are strong you can be great at anything, which is not true. He also says you need to factor in what the play as a child, and then puts it on everyone else to prove that its not a thing. First of all, he needs to defend the argument he is making, not put it on others to disprove his theory. Also, is he denying genetics?

He doesn't want to use 100m dash or track in general where genetic advantages are clear. Ethiopian runners are not the best in the world because solely based on their play when they are younger. It may play a part, but their genetic make-up is ultimately what separates them from the best in the world. This predisposition to a high Vo2 max could be described as talent. It is an advantage that comes from genetic selection.

Ben wants to limit the discussion to wrestling only when that point gets brought up. He says that the complexity of the sport allows for different skillsets to come into play. This is true. There are more variables at play. However, it does not account for the person who is given very little in any of the skills that he lists. This unlucky recipient could do everything possible to become the best wrestler in the world, but he will always be playing catchup to those who are more talented. Even if that person is able to get substantially better, there are still limits in time and eventually entropy will come in to play. Ben falls victim to the cliche of hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard, but any time I hear this I always think, "What if talent works hard?" Further, what if someone hits the genetic lottery, has strength, speed, flexibility, mental toughness, etc. at a higher degree than most? That person would be described as talented wouldn't he? I fail to see how someone who won the genetic lottery could ever lose to genetic loser if all other things are equal.

The fact is, at the highest level of athletics natural selection does come in to play. Michael phelps is the best in swimming and he also has the ideal body for the sport. I could have never beat him no matter how hard I tried. He is just too talented. This isn't to say Phelps didn't have to work as hard, or that I could not have been a great swimmer in my own right. Hard work most certainly comes in to play, but it is not mutually exclusive. When all other things are equal, a natural talent will win the day.


Yes, wrestling is different, but there are some skills that are more favored over others. Some are just more talented. I think Ben has fallen victim to the survivorship bias. He so badly wants to say genetics and luck are not a thing, likely out of ego or its just the coach in him, and he will analyze all of the best to prove his point . However fails to recognize those who never reached a high level despite tremendous amounts of work; those who lacked the necessary talent.
 

I may sound like a broken record as I have recommended the book the Sports Gene by David Epstein multiple times here. It is a well sourced book. I would honestly be surprised if Ben hadn't read it and I'd be very interested to hear what he thinks of the examples given by it. For those who want to read more about this specific topic it is a really good one and a fun, easy read.

However Ben thinks that working ethic is  also a talent.  I think he may define talent differently than you do.

Have you read "Reach" which is a more recent work by Epstein? A lot of his arguments come from "Reach" and "The Talent Code" by Coyle.

His thing is that wrestling is such a complex sport that someone lacking fast twitch fibers can make it up with conditioning, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, etc.

Wrestling is definitely more complex than a 100m dash and definitely more complex than marathon.  There are many more factors that come into play.

(I loved "The Sports Gene" but Askren is using that authors more recent, updated theories to make his argument.  The female chess prodigies for instance.)

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1 minute ago, AHamilton said:

However Ben thinks that working ethic is  also a talent.  I think he may define talent differently than you do.

Have you read "Reach" which is a more recent work by Epstein? A lot of his arguments come from "Reach" and "The Talent Code" by Coyle.

His thing is that wrestling is such a complex sport that someone lacking fast twitch fibers can make it up with conditioning, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, etc.

Wrestling is definitely more complex than a 100m dash and definitely more complex than marathon.  There are many more factors that come into play.

(I loved "The Sports Gene" but Askren is using that authors more recent, updated theories to make his argument.  The female chess prodigies for instance.)

By reach, I think you mean Range. Yes, I did read it recently because you had recommended it last time we discussed something similar. I didn't see where it was argued that there was no such thing as talent though. I took it as that when rote memory or repetition no longer came in to play, there is advantages in having a wide spectrum of skills, not that some could make up for a lack of skills altogether. For instance the chess prodigies were able to take advantage of hours and hours and hours of time playing and studying chess, where Roger Federer had benefited from doing multiple sports which allowed him to be more prepared for tennis had he simply done just tennis. It didn't seem to me that he was saying talent is not a thing. 

Plus, I felt that book as a whole was speaking to how the generalist approach would help in a world where humans are strictly problem solvers as tech takes over the more repetitive tasks. 
 

13 minutes ago, AHamilton said:

His thing is that wrestling is such a complex sport that someone lacking fast twitch fibers can make it up with conditioning, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, etc.

To which I would say, what if you had a kid with exercise induced asthma, scoliosis and was clumsy along with a lack of fast twitch fibers? He better be off the charts in all other categories to make up for it.

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1 minute ago, russelscout said:

By reach, I think you mean Range. Yes, I did read it recently because you had recommended it last time we discussed something similar. I didn't see where it was argued that there was no such thing as talent though. I took it as that when rote memory or repetition no longer came in to play, there is advantages in having a wide spectrum of skills, not that some could make up for a lack of skills altogether. For instance the chess prodigies were able to take advantage of hours and hours and hours of time playing and studying chess, where Roger Federer had benefited from doing multiple sports which allowed him to be more prepared for tennis had he simply done just tennis. It didn't seem to me that he was saying talent is not a thing. 

Plus, I felt that book as a whole was speaking to how the generalist approach would help in a world where humans are strictly problem solvers as tech takes over the more repetitive tasks. 
 

To which I would say, what if you had a kid with exercise induced asthma, scoliosis and was clumsy along with a lack of fast twitch fibers? He better be off the charts in all other categories to make up for it.

Range! Sorry about that mistake!  I preferred The Sports Gene, personally.  I think that combining the arguments in Range and The Talent Code has led Ben to his theories.

Ben thinks that the person you mentioned above would be likely to make up for those issues in the remainder of his  17  wrestling categories.

I think this is the deal, and I am sure that you get this too: Ben looks unathletic.  He has little muscle mass. He is not explosive.  He has asthma. No one considered him talented when he was younger and then he started winning.  He worked very hard to achieve greatness.  At that point, people were all saying he was a talent and that diminished all of his hard work.  He didn't like his work being diminished.  (And yes, he considers work ethic as one of his 17 innate categories)

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4 minutes ago, AHamilton said:

Range! Sorry about that mistake!  I preferred The Sports Gene, personally.  I think that combining the arguments in Range and The Talent Code has led Ben to his theories.

Ben thinks that the person you mentioned above would be likely to make up for those issues in the remainder of his  17  wrestling categories.

I think this is the deal, and I am sure that you get this too: Ben looks unathletic.  He has little muscle mass. He is not explosive.  He has asthma. No one considered him talented when he was younger and then he started winning.  He worked very hard to achieve greatness.  At that point, people were all saying he was a talent and that diminished all of his hard work.  He didn't like his work being diminished.  (And yes, he considers work ethic as one of his 17 innate categories)

Which makes a lot of sense. I think sometimes very good athletes are offended by the word talent as if it means they got lucky. Not true. Effort and talent can coincide and talent doesn't take away from the sacrifices he has made. However, it doesn't change the fact that some people just are not talented enough to be elite.

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1 minute ago, russelscout said:

Which makes a lot of sense. I think sometimes very good athletes are offended by the word talent as if it means they got lucky. Not true. Effort and talent can coincide and talent doesn't take away from the sacrifices he has made. However, it doesn't change the fact that some people just are not talented enough to be elite.

I agree.

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What makes the truly elite guys special is where talent and competitive drive/hard work meet. Being an elite athlete wouldn’t be anything special if all it took was any random person trying hard.  No, the guys like Burroughs, Gretzky, Woods, Federer, Jordan-they are different than the rest of the world. They have a rare combination of physical/mental gifts combined with incredible drive/work ethic. That’s what makes them special and separates them.
 

And yes, Askren has a ton of talent as well-at least for wrestling. Thats why nobody else has been able to replicate his style despite the technique being available. In MMA, yeah, probably not that much talent.

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12 minutes ago, Billyhoyle said:

What makes the truly elite guys special is where talent and competitive drive/hard work meet. Being an elite athlete wouldn’t be anything special if all it took was any random person trying hard.  No, the guys like Burroughs, Gretzky, Woods, Federer, Jordan-they are different than the rest of the world. They have a rare combination of physical/mental gifts combined with incredible drive/work ethic. That’s what makes them special and separates them.
 

And yes, Askren has a ton of talent as well-at least for wrestling. Thats why nobody else has been able to replicate his style despite the technique being available. In MMA, yeah, probably not that much talent.

He was pretty good at MMA.  

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Talent and competitive drive for sure, also resources. Environment, food, nutrition, medicine, facilities, gear, technology, education, etc. Look at the way the Olympics medal tables play out.

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Set up 20 kids in a classroom with zero training and ask them to draw something realistically.  Some kids will inherently be able to draw it some won’t even come close. Those who can have a talent for drawing. I like using drawing because it has nothing to do with success or competition and it’s a fairly complex skill mentally and physically. 

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He has to believe the fiction that talent doesn't exist - otherwise it's hard to tell kids you're coaching that they can accomplish anything thru hard work. We all know it's not true, but if you can get kids to buy in, then you get more out of them.

Same way that people convince themselves God exists, so that they behave better...

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The mouse example he used as an example of talent not existing actually shows that talent does exist.

Wrestling is a sport where you can minimize talent with other attributes, but in the end the top guys in the World and even USA national team are extremely talented. Ben isn't talented with speed or strength, but learning ability and body awareness are things he had.

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8 minutes ago, BobDole said:

Wrestling is a sport where you can minimize talent with other attributes, but in the end the top guys in the World and even USA national team are extremely talented. Ben isn't talented with speed or strength, but learning ability and body awareness are things he had.

Well and this is where Ben deceives himself. He only evaluates the elite. It is hard to look at the Worlds and see where someone may have more natural talent than others because there is a filter at the college level that prevents those without adequate talent from getting to that level, just as there is a filter at the high school level. If you go to a high school or junior high tournament in the middle of nowhere, it is much easier to see that divide in natural talent. 

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Listening this morning again, Ben still falls victim to the same survivorship bias. He is analyzing all these national champs or guys who came close to winning and pointing to the differences in each as a reason for why there isn't talent. It does not address on those who have or could never have gotten that level. He lives in a world where each person is divvied out skills equally across all potential skills. This is ridiculous. I find it interested that Ben says people fall victim to cognitive biases as he doubles down on his cognitive bias.

Edited by russelscout

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I agree that "talent exists," but I don't get why Pyles wouldn't admit that it gave people an advantage "to achieve success" or whatever the wording was.

Not all people with talent achieve success, but having talent certainly gives you an advantage to having success.

 

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It’s common for wrestling people to say that it’s all about work ethic. The kid who works harder and longer will be more successful. It’s just not true. If that were the case we wouldn’t need weights classes. Power, strength, athleticism all matter a huge deal. (Yes even among people of the same weight. ) Anyone that has ever coached has seen kids who were great athletes come out for the sport late in life and within 6 months tossing around less athletic kids who have worked just as hard and for a lot longer. 
 

of course if you hold all else equal, the harder worker will do better. But all else is never equal. Athleticism plays an enormous role in wrestling success, due to the intense physical nature I dare say that it matters more than most sports. We have all seen non athletes work hard and have nice careers. No doubt. But the elites have elite physical gifts to go along with the work ethic. 

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On 5/27/2020 at 5:34 PM, Plasmodium said:

First argument to come out of this discussion: Ethiopians are definitely not the best runners in the world.

 

I am personally offended by that comment.

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You have to really contort meanings and definitions to claim talent doesn’t exist or it doesn’t matter.

If I’m reading above correctly, Askren is saying that there are many ways to have an advantage in wrestling.  All good.  People can have natural or developed talents in each category.  Just because they might cancel out to a degree when you have A with certain skills vs B with other skills, doesn’t mean that the talent in those categories is not there.

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1 hour ago, nom said:

You have to really contort meanings and definitions to claim talent doesn’t exist or it doesn’t matter.

If I’m reading above correctly, Askren is saying that there are many ways to have an advantage in wrestling.  All good.  People can have natural or developed talents in each category.  Just because they might cancel out to a degree when you have A with certain skills vs B with other skills, doesn’t mean that the talent in those categories is not there.

Askren believes that at birth everyone has the same exact skillsets and that they are all developed at home early on. 

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