[Book Review] Deep Practice


Review: Coyle, Daniel (2006). The Talent Code. Chapter 1: The Sweet Spot


The much heated debate of nurture vs. nature has been well-documented in numerous publications. On one hand, those who argue for the innate factor of champions emphasize the importance of genes and how to identify those genes should be the focus of empirical research. On the other hand, a majority of educational circles would advocate the importance of training and the environment in which a champion is raised.  Daniel Coyle in the first chapter of the book The Talent Code provides a strong case for the latter viewpoint.

In the first chapter, the author himself travels to different places around the world which is figuratively referred to “Chicken-wire Harvards”. Obviously, those places should have been well-known for a specific kind of outstanding achivements, for example, to understand what makes a soccer superstar, he went to Brazil-the country of five-time World Cup Champions to learn how Brazilian soccer players practice football sessions. Similarly, to tennis courts in Moscow, to music academy in New York, etc. There he found out the method to build winners.

 The author builds up his hyphothesis by examining two case studies. One is Edwin Link’s method of training pilots which was adopted when Air Corps pilot selection and training procedure failed. Edwin Link’s model was superior in the sense that pilots-to-be have much more practice and much more opportunites to make mistakes during training. And Edwin Link made it! The other case is from Brazil. He realized how Brazilian excelled at soccer by observing them play futsal. Players, forming teams of six, had to compete against others in closed spaces so that they would practice the ability to well-controll the ball. Later a soccer coach called Simon Clifford learned the technique and opened a school in England. It seemes that Simon Clifford’s replica has begun to reap some success.

 “Sweet spot” chapter is well-supported. The success-proven case studies makes the narratives more convincing and also based on scientific study based on Robert Bjork, the chair of psychology at UCLA who claimed that “Things that appear to be obstacles turn out to be desirable in the long haul…One real encounter, even for a few seconds, is far more useful than several hundred obdervations.”  Robert Bjork defines “sweet spot” as “It’s all about finding the sweet spot. There’s an optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do. When you find that sweet spot, learning takes off.” (p.19)

So, that’s it. All you need to know is deep practice regardless of your abilities or disadvantaged traits. “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – make you smarter. Or to put it a slighly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them…” (p.18) “Deep practice” is also valuable in the sense that it open doors to educators, including parents, teachers, decision-makers, to have a firm belief in appropriate practice at home and school and in the impact education has on a child’s education. Daniel Boyle’s ideas are later resonated in the book “Outliers” by Malcom Gladwell. To be more exact, Gladwell can identify the number of hours required to be an outlier – a person who conducts amazing deeds. Here is the magic number: 10.000 hours or ten years of severe training.

Skeptics might argue that such training could be weird in some exent and it would take a whole lots of courage to refute the traditional educational methods. It might look ridiculous to an outsider indeed and I woul also express my doubt. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole book to really figure out how to apply such theories into practice.

All in all, I still find the book intriguing and  one would not deny the positive case for the role of environment factor. What I learn is that to train a champion is to treat them like a champions-to-be and put them under situations where they have to struggle with other champions-to-be. “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.”

(Illustrations are extracted from http://cgfewston.me/2014/05/19/the-talent-code-2009-by-daniel-coyle/) 



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