Talent: a dangerous word for players and a highly infectious idea for coaches. This article by PDP Lead Researcher, James Vaughan explores the possibility that talent is a ‘meme’.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to explain an infectious idea that spreads from person to person: the cultural equivalent of a gene. Incorporating theories from motor learning and psychology, this article discusses talent as a meme and highlights its potential influence as a socio-cultural constraint – inhibiting the development of skill and creativity. However, we start with the idea that talent (as we know it) may not exist at all.

“Within the framework of nonlinear pedagogy, a skill and more generally talent, is not a trait possessed by individuals alone but a property of the athlete-environment system subject to changing constraints”

(Hristovski, Davids, Passos, & Araújo, 2012, p. 27)

This is key: players do not possess talent, and people are not skilled. In some moments, within certain environments, under specific constraints and when engaged in a particular task, skill and creativity will emerge. Elizabeth Gilbert illustrates this point in her TED talk: your elusive creative genius. 

As a simple example, if you put Messi on the pitch at the Camp Nou surrounded by his Barcelona teammates playing their iconic brand of football it becomes plain to see that he’s the most skilful (talented) player on the pitch.

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James Vaughan
James Vaughan
James Vaughan is a Co-founder of Player Development Project and currently based in Stockholm where he is coaching at AIK and working towards his PhD in Creativity & Motivation in Football.
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