Bounce by Matthew Syed

Posted on September 19, 2011

I started reading a book this weekend that I know some of you will be familiar with. It is called Bounce by Matthew Syed and it is a brilliant insight in to what we all assume is natural or prodigious talent. I only wish I had read it before I became a cricket coach, it would have taught me so much about the training of the human brain and how world championship talent can only be created by a ridiculous number of hours of practice, 10,000 plus to be more precise. I am or I was, amongst most of the population that thought that there was something in the gene pool that made some people more successful than others, whether it be as sportsmen, musicians, politicians or employees. How else could you justify the mercurial talents of Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, Lionel Messi or Garry Kasparov, the master Chess player who beat an IBM computer.

Before I started to read this book I was a cynic, but there is proof everywhere that talent can only be gained by one thing, repetitive practice. You should really go and read the book, but if you don’t want to, take a few examples that I have read so far. Let’s start with Tiger Woods who many have assumed as the most gifted golfer of all time, blessed with a God given talent. However what most of us didn’t know was that his Father, Earl, was obsessed with the idea that practice creates greatness and that the key was to start as early as possible so future performance is subconscious. Tiger would watch from his high chair as a baby as his father hit balls in to a net, he was given a golf club before he was one. At 18 months he had he first trip to a course and was already aware about Par 3, 4 and 5’s even though he couldn’t count to ten and he was regularly driving the ball eighty yards and chipping from forty yards. Every practice ended with him taking consecutive putts from three feet until he missed, at seventy putts Earl would still be there. By his mid teens Woods had completed ten thousand hours of practice and the trophies and cheques started arriving.

The Williams sisters are a similar example, in fact they were created by their parents after her Father salivated at seeing a tennis player winning $40,000. He and his wife Oracene were so impressed that they decided they would have children and create their own tennis champion, how mad is that, they weren’t even born? After having his two daughters, Richard clocked up the magic 10,000 hours by coaching the girls from 8.00am to 3.00pm with drills such as hitting with baseball bats and aiming at cones on the opposing baselines. Serena entered her first competition at just four years old and by their teens both sisters were well past the figure to make someone world class. If you look at any sporting success the story is just the same, David Beckham attributes his free kick technique to practice, hard work, more practice, hard work, more practice and then even more hard work and Jonny Wilkinson used to practice converting penalties from different angles for up to eight hours a day. The studies in the book show that no one has achieved sporting success by doing anything less than the magic 10,000 hours required.

Kasparov: Several thousands of hours in the making

I am just touching on areas of the book in this Blog, I could plagiarise it all day, it goes in to all sorts of fascinating cognitive neuroscience and what is called combinatorial explosion, the rapid number of variable escalations in real life situations, the best example being Chess, which really blew me away. At the beginning of a game of chess there are thirty ways to move and thirty ways to respond, I can say even I knew that. However, after just two moves there are 800,000 possible positions and a few after after that there are trillions (yes trillions). Then, get this…… after a few more there are more moves available than there are atoms in the universe. During his match with Deep Blue, the IBM computer, Kasparov had within his capability a mere three moves per second whilst the computer had tens of millions. However Kasparov had the endless knowledge and experience of chess that Deep Blue couldn’t compete with. I find that amazing, how Kasparov achieved that is worth the price of the book on it’s own.

Matthew Syed isn’t some whacko with a bizarre take on life, he is a former table tennis champion who came from a humble street in Reading that produced no less than five champions. This made him investigate how he became who he was with fascinating results, as it doesn’t matter whether it is Mozart, David Beckham, Garry Kasparov or Tiger Woods, the results are all the same. World class talent comes from one thing and thing only, man hours, or child hours as is the case. Without knowing it Syed and his mates were clocking up thousands of hours playing at the local youth club to which they had the keys. If you practice for two thousand hours you will be quite good, if you practice for eight thousand hours you will be very good, but unless you practice for ten thousand hours and counting, you will never be a world champion.

If you are interested in sporting or academic achievement, this book is a must read, it is brilliant stuff.

“I know your Mum thinks you are at school son………..just shut up and keep bowling, she will be here at three O’clock.”

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