First of all, there are lots of answers. I ask this in the context of sports medicine and sports performance enhancement. I always seem to struggle with the answer, especially when it comes to young athletes that are considered elite.
I think there are a couple physical factors when the public says an athlete is talented. There are mental factors as well that are beyond the scope of this article. The first is very good hand-eye coordination. They make things look easy. They pick up skills quickly. They are usually also good with their feet. The coach will say that they have “good hands.”
The second is they can generate speed. They have a lot of fast twitch ability. We train in high speed to replicate and plyometrics were born to do this, but some athletes have more of this ability than others. This can also usually be seen at a young age across multiple sports.
I think the third, and maybe most overlooked, is the ability to dissociate their shoulder girdle movement from their hip girdle movement. To create rotational speed and power, as in throwing, hitting, etc across most sports, you start with lower half stability, open hips, then open shoulders, and then transfer energy distally to the ball or bat or racquet. I have tried to include some pictures as illustrations. Video is a much better avenue however so you can see the differentiation of hip and shoulder rotation throughout a motion. It is not easy to train but we slow it down, break it down, practice moving the girdles separately, show them video, and put back into full speed. “Lesser” athletes may tend to move the girdles together due to weakness or lack to control but this will limit velocity and performance.
As I said, I think these factors and variables can be enhanced with training or removing pain/inflammation. That is my daily job. I also think there is a genetic ceiling. Even if kids train starting at age 2, there will still be a maximum. I could train all day, every day and not beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. I could out work him, but I don’t have all the genetics and “talent.”
So, don’t forget to look at shoulders and hip rotation. Elite athletes make this look easy. Even Aunt Betty in the 5th row will be able to recognize that “talent.”
Or, call me, I can help.
Kash Eagleton, DPT, SCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Sports Physical Therapy Specialist