November 06, 2007

"I expected it to be kind of a factory setting...and what I found was a very loving, somewhat casual environment...they weren't factories, they were more like gardens.": On NPR's Only a Game, Daniel Coyle talks about where great athletic talent comes from, as further described in his article How to Grow a Super-Athlete (NY Times Play magazine).

posted by lil_brown_bat to other at 11:34 AM - 6 comments

That was a good read. Thanks.

posted by apoch at 12:54 PM on November 06, 2007

Neat link, thanks for posting. This reinforces things we've heard elsewhere, including Metafilter, that expertise in any field is really and truly the result of practice:

Ericsson also discusses the Ten-Year Rule, an intriguing finding dating to 1899, which shows that even the most talented individual requires a decade of committed practice before reaching world-class level. (Even a prodigy like the chess player Bobby Fischer put in nine hard years before achieving his grandmaster status at age 16.) While this rule is often used to backdate the ideal start of training (in tennis, girls peak physically at around 17, so they ought to start by 7; boys peak later, so 9 is O.K.), the Ten-Year Rule has more universal implications. Namely, it implies that all skills are built using the same fundamental mechanism, and that the mechanism makes physiological demands from which no one is exempt.
It makes me wonder, even, if there is such a thing a "natural talent" beyond the tiniest degree, beyond merely the physical shape and size (i.e., you can't "teach" being 7'1", but you can teach being a world-class dribbler, passer, or shooter). For example, are world-class musicians really just people with marginally better "talents" out of the starting gate? Everyone listens to music, everyone likes music, yet only some have a little bit of talent and passion which mostly existed to encourage them to focus, practice, and practice right- pushing themselves in areas they were weakest. Where most of us only do those things that we are comfortable doing, the best of the best find the area they're weakest at and push, push, push. They practice scales, they do ear training, they study harmonics. Not that any of us could beat Tiger Woods, but that any of us could have been pro golfers if we wanted to- Tiger's edge is that he took the talent edge he probably had, and magnified it immensely through very early and lifelong training. If any of us reading SpoFi had gone to the driving range every day when we were 10, wouldn't we be pro-level by age 20? Yes, there'd still be outliers, but it's like the idea is that to be 95% of great, you simply have to try. This doesn't discount the existence of prodigies, as a rarity, but even there- is it simply that the impressionable young mind adapts and grows quickly, allowing the prodigy to pick up things quickly and with a rigorous focus that only makes it seem like a 'miracle'? It makes me wonder if anyone could be, well, nearly anything, if they put 10 years into it, technically working their muscles and reflexes to be lightning quick and responsive. Whenever I read about people running 50+ mile marathons, I realize "They aren't special, they just run a lot, every day, until their bodies can do this so easily..." The miracle of the human brain and human body is more than anything how adaptive it is- how we can change and grow our abilities as we desire it.

posted by hincandenza at 01:17 PM on November 06, 2007

Somebody said " The harder I work the luckier I get " and " Practice makes perfect" Hmmmmmmm. Maybe they were on to something

posted by Ironhead at 02:37 PM on November 06, 2007

Hal and Ironhead, re: practice, that's my thinking too, and it was nice to happen across a well-written article that validates that*. One thing struck me, though, was that the Spartak kids seem to flourish by being in an environment where they are happy to practice. I'm sure they're aware that you can make out like a bandit as a professional tennis player, but from Coyle's description, they seem happy simply to do the thing, to practice and take the improvements that come from practice. They're not miserable in the here and now out of some hope for a golden payoff ten years from now. Culturally, Americans (and probably some other nations as well) seem to be in love with the magic-dust idea of "talent", and particularly with the notion of youthful prodigies. I teach four- to six-year-old kids to ski, and I can't tell you how many times I've brought my class into a lift line and had adults gush at how amazing they are. People love to tell me how much faster kids progress than adults...well, yeah, because their parents check them into ski school all day, which means they get a good four hours of skiing that's focused on skills development and practice. More often than not when I teach, I'm teaching on intermediate to advanced terrain, and I can count the number of times I've been there and seen an adult ski class on the fingers of one hand and still have enough fingers left to pick my nose and hail a cab. The kids, literally, do not know left from right; their physical development, strength, balance and coordination are very limited; their spatial sense is not well developed. Above all, they lack a lifetime of experiences that can be used as analogies or guidelines in learning a new skill. An adult can learn much faster than a young child; the kids I teach learn faster simply because they practice. *Actually, I "ran across" it last March, while listening to Only a Game on my way up to the mountain to teach a bunch of young kids how to ski. I thought, "Hey, this would be a good fpp," mentally filed it, and forgot it until the current lr discussion about FPPs. So, it's not this week's article, but I think it's still timely and relevant.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 02:57 PM on November 06, 2007

Don't tell this to AI

posted by bobrolloff at 05:06 PM on November 06, 2007

Thanks for the fpp. I helps me believe that any child has the potential to be great. There has to be a love to start with and that can sometimes be influenced by what is watched by the parents. Parents are a big part of this if they are willing to pay with money and time for practice. Our son works very hard at hockey and really loves it. He wants to play in NHL and this gives me hope. He did get some athletic genes from skydivedad but all I contributed is the love of watching sports as I am not very coordinated at them. I can most definately give him any support he needs. I also think that sometimes it seems kids have an easier time learning because they have not learned fear or mistrust. If you tell them they can do it they believe it. Where as an adult has learned to mistrust people and the fear of the risk they are taking.

posted by skydivemom at 05:21 PM on November 06, 2007

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