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The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle visited nine of the world’s greatest talent hotbeds, tiny places that produce huge amounts of talent, from a small music camp in upstate New York to the baseball fields of the Caribbean. He found that there’s a pattern common to all of them, certain methods of training, motivation, and coaching. This pattern, which has to do with the way the brain acquires skill, is the reason for their success, and (you guessed it) can be followed by pretty much anybody.
Who is Daniel Coyle, what’s your profession?
I’m a journalist. I studied pre-med in college and journalism and I’ve worked for a variety of newspapers and magazines. I’ve written four books and most of them have to do with the intersection of sports and science. I’m the father for four children. I got interested in this for numerous reasons, number one; I came across a clip describing Spartak. It’s a place with one indoor court, which has produced more champions than the United States, more top 20 women’s players and this defiantly got my attention! Plus, for someone who writes a great deal of magazines and profiles about outstanding performers in all walks of life, I kept seeing the same patterns pop up again and again. So, between all those sorts of things coming together, in particular the science side of it, looking at the new research that came out about performance, all those things fed into my interest in the topic and ultimately my interest writing the book.
What is “The Talent Code” about?
It’s about…I should have a good answer for this. Is it about what makes great performers and what lies beneath human skill? We have ways of understanding that, for years we’ve been told the story you were born with a genetic gift, you were born with certain capabilities and certain feelings on performance. So I did two things! First, I visited a number for talent hotbeds around the country and around the world. Secondly, I then looked at what they had in common and I also looked at the science, what made them tick! So that’s what the talent code is about, it is the common principles of top performers, that all top performers share, from music, math, sports, art, business and that our human brain is learning machine. The talent code is about the principles through which that machine functions best.
What motivated you write this book?
I was really interested in particular with that Spartak clip, it got me thinking what the hell is going on their! It’s physically impossible and statically impossible, but we keep seeing the same patterns occurring over and over again, and it’s just a great mystery. In journalism it’s my job to be curious about things like that. Once I started to learn more and more about each of these places and the common things that they share, it was like an addict and I couldn’t resist going to these places and learning as much as possible. At a certain point it became like an obsession and the book really shows at points how deeply I drove into it.
In the book you discuss creating more “Myelin” at a younger age would make the difference between a world-class athlete and the rest of us. At what age should we start developing this process?
Well it would be nice to able to put a number on that. But the truth is, every human is build differently and in general we’ve got these developmental windows. Myelin arrives all throughout our lives, we continue to build it right up until the moment we put our foot in the grave. But it arrives most swiftly in a kind of developmental wave when you’re around 12. This is one of the reasons you don’t see, very many, if any top performers begin their activity after the age of 12. No one in the great symphony orchestra, very few golfers, very few swimmers and very few top performers of any kind excel after this age. There really is this natural window were we learn swiftly and most efficiently. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t give up after that certain age. I can think of an aspiring case in the world of golf, Y.E. Yang who won last year’s PGA Championship and beat Tiger Woods on the final hole. Apparently, he started playing golf when he was 18, but it’s clear that sporting institutions, the soccer world and parents know, that of you want to get good at something, you’ve got to start young. The more you fire your circuit, the more you repeat, the more you fix your errors and go back and do it again and the more you get your 10,000 hours earlier…the better your be.
The NSCAA recently created a Master Coach Diploma. In the book it suggests ‘world class talent requires help, feedback and guidance from disciplined, committed coaches. Do you think we could take this theory and apply it to developing coaches?
I think you put your finger on probably the biggest challenge and opportunity in sports right now. I’ve just come from a conference at the US Olympic committee and that was a huge topic of discussion. You know in some countries, some sports are quiet good at training coaches. Football, for instance, when you look at the family trees of great coaches, trees that assemble around coaches like Bill Walsh, where the structure of sports allows coaches to be apprentices. The structure of the sport allows coaches to do many hours of intense training and learn from great master coaches. Many other systems/sports lack this kind of apprenticeship program, so I think it’s important for any sport. But the key questions is…ok how we take what these key coaches do and clone it, get into the brain and the hands and the eyes of a younger generation. I think an apprenticeship program is a perfect way to do that. Master Coaches are rear because they have to be good at two things; they have to be great at the skill and understand their sport perfectly, plus they need to be great communicators. Because of this double requirement, when you have a master coach it really needs to be someone who can be employed fully as a resource and as a guide so that their knowledge doesn’t disappear, so you can make the most if it. So that’s, as you say, I think you put your finger on the real challenge of being a sports coach today.
As always, please let me know your thoughts?