Mark Bowden talks about how great natural ability can hold some players back

The First of 2 Key Ingredients to be a Brilliant Football Player

When it comes to the potential of how far a footballer will get in the game there are two very important ingredients.

The first is natural talent, some might see this as the talent a player is born with. Whilst it is true that body shape and certain physical makeup can assist, it’s clear that even the best footballers come in all shapes and sizes.

However, for me it isn’t the natural ability or the potential a footballer is literally born with.

I see what people talk about as ‘natural talent’ as being the progress that a player makes when they are young. When they have an absolute love for the game.

It’s where they get to on the early journey, when nothing is complicated. When there is a freedom to express themselves with the ball and the only reason they are playing is that they love every single moment of it.

For me, this development here is what people will then refer to as a footballers ‘natural talent’.

It’s where they get to from a young age from pure love for playing the game.

The Next and Arguably More Important Footballing Ingredient

The second ingredient comes in a little later.

It usually comes after they have achieved a certain level of talent. Once they have been earmarked them to play at a certain level in the game.

When I say a certain level, this could be a decent level at amateur football, all the way up to those who will go on to play Champions League and represent their country.

No matter where a players natural talent is, it is within this next part of the journey where a players true destination will truly in the career will be determined.

What road will they be on?

Will they be stuck, chugging forward in city traffic, or will they be on the race circuit where their acceleration forward can be limitless?

This second ingredient and most vital one is something that could be described as Drive or determination. It’s having a relentlessness to push the boundaries to get to the next level and beyond. It’s having a dedication to consistent and never ending improvement.

Every top player would like to think that they have both maxed out. However, in reality very few really do.

Only The Very Elite Players Have These Filled to The Maximum

When I think of those that are hitting the top in both I would only give a handful of names.

Cristano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrhimovich, Lionel Messi and perhaps a few others at a push..

These players are truly exceptional.

Those that have their amazing footballing ability combined with the football mindset to the highest levels. The football talent and the football brain.

However, if you say that these players are where they are because of natural ability I would say that is insulting to these players.

Of course they have had very high levels of natural ability.

But with this they have had something that rarely comes with these high levels of natural ability. They also had the commitment to consistent and never ending improvement. Going out of their comfort zones consistently to getting to that next level. Then, when the next level was achieved they were desperate for even more.

Why is High Natural Talent & High Drive So Rare?

It is indeed extremely rare to get this extremely high level of drive within the very naturally talented… and why?

It’s because everything has always come easy to the naturally talented football player

They’ve always been able to excel above everyone else as they’ve progressed through, without getting out of their comfort zone. With such a love for what they do, it has been easy to progress at a great pace.

But once they hit a level where they are out of their comfort zone, they don’t know how to move forward.

And through no fault of their own, they don’t know how to feel comfortable, feeling uncomfortable. They haven’t conditioned that inner drive and determination to be the very best, no matter what obstacles are put in front of them. 

Most of all, that feeling within them, when things are hard, when things start becoming difficult, they go into what I call the red brain… They aren’t used to being out of this comfort zone of excelling everywhere they’ve been. 

So now, the emotions and feelings that they get, rather than drive to get better, dedication for absolute commitment to get themselves to the next level. It isn’t there. Instead of this their brains act as natural as anyone else’s brain that isn’t used to this. 

Self doubt, uncertainty and an inner voice questioning “maybe I’ve reached my limits?”

However, once again I will reiterate, this is through no fault of the player. It’s because they haven’t been conditioned on how to react in this situation. It’s always been easy and they think their limits are now reached and there is nothing beyond this. 

We all know players that this applies to. Where they have low levels of that drive to get to the next level, and indeed knowing how to get get that drive to get to the next level. Instead that red brain of uncertainty and self doubt kicks in so powerfully that it derails their development.

It is why to most players in the game right now, natural talent is what has got them to the level they are playing at, but it’s also the one thing that will hold them there and stop them from becoming the player that they could be.

It is the reason why these players will be overtaken by the third and final type of player.

The Type of Footballer That Sir Alex Ferguson Would Rather Have in His Team

Think of the players who haven’t always found it the easiest to play at the level that they are playing at. Those that you would say aren’t the most naturally talented, but are committed to getting better.

These players are comfortable with being uncomfortable. They’ve conditioned themselves so that drive and determination to progress is natural and automatic to them. It is this conditioning process that is the reason that they will most likely progress further than those players with high levels of natural talent.

It’s what lead Sir Alex Ferguson to say that we would always choose a hard worker over a more naturally gifted player. As he says

“hard work will always overcome natural talent, when natural talent does not work hard enough”.

Indeed one of the players I work with now who has represented the England national team has said that he was never the most gifted player at any level he has played at, yet he always worked tirelessly to become better and better.

It’s this attitude that triumphs over the naturally talented. It is what enabled him to go from not being one of the best players at a lower level boys club, to going on to represent his country.

There is no downside to anything that has been mentioned here, because if you’re a footballer, you have your natural talent and where that is right now. However, that drive, that determination and dedication to getting out of your comfort zone. The commitment to turning uncertainty and self doubt into fuel that drives you to becoming the best version of the player you can be. All of this is what you can absolutely condition into you.

So if you’re a player in the game who isn’t the most talented, look at those better players around you and know that with the drive you have, you will likely eclipse the achievements of these players.

However, if you are naturally talented and have been slightly derailed by that red brain of self doubt, then know that this drive and hunger can be conditioned to overcome the self doubt.

Then, when that ball and chain does comer off, imagine just how far that could take you in the game.


Mark Bowden is the best selling author of the book Use Your Brain, Raise Your Game.

Access the same information that he uses with the Premier League players that he works with through his app. Find more about it here.