Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Bounce, the myth of talent and the power of practice

Do you want to race as well as Ben Ainslie?

It sounds impossible, super human performance out of reach to us lesser mortals, but this book by Matthew Syed shows how it could be achieved.

Alas the starting point for the ├╝ber athlete is childhood, so if those days are a dim memory you're going to be disappointed.

The key task is practice and lots and lots of it. The expert (for its not just about sport) typically has 10 years practice or maybe as much as 10,000 hours.

Its also got to be the right sort of practice, the sort that stretches you outside your comfort zone. As important is feedback, to learn from mistakes, and often these two come from being part of a small highly competitive group.

Motivation is also key, to keep going and it helps if practice is not a burden but a pleasure. As an example the author notes how a top skater could have fallen as many as 20,000 times, but every time she picked herself up and kept going.

One important lesson is to praise effort rather than natural skills. In an experiment by Carol Dweck in 1998 students were split into two groups and give a test. Afterwards one group was told "you must be really smart" and the other "you must have worked really hard" and then asked if they wanted to do an easy or difficult task.

The results were dramatic with the first group choosing to do the easy one, fearing to do badly and hence found out as not smart while the latter more likely to rise to the challenge and choose the harder. In addition when given another test those given the smart compliment scored 20% lower while the workers scored 30% higher.

Matthew Syed is clearly one to favour nurture over than nature, arguing that our minds are sufficiently plastic to learn almost anything.

That is great, as it means anyone could excel; but it is also sad, because so many don't.

Towards the end the book flags a bit and I did wonder whether information that didn't fit the story had been excluded (e.g. given two groups which both had practised equally wouldn't there even be the possibility of genetic factors influencing who wins?).

However its a great read, in particular for those that involved in training or motivating the young.


Tillerman said...

JP, I am really impressed by how hard you have been working on your blog lately. You are really putting in the extra effort and it shows. Keep it up!

JP said...


Of course to improve I must make lots of mistakes to learn from so I must have written a lot of bad posts

O Docker said...

Those of us who don't have the natural writing skills of a Buff Staysail just have to try harder, JP.

Towpath Tanya said...

Right again, JP.

Old Tanya must have fallen 10,000 times. May not know where she be in the mornin, but it's back to work with me.

Tillerman said...

O Docker, on the other hand, is really smart. He has a natural talent for blogging.

O Docker said...

In the great clinical study of life, why am I always in the control group?

JP said...

Think positive - you get the placebo effect for free if you're in the control group