This book by Matthew Syed, a table tennis champion, is part biography and part observations about excellence. It is a deep dive on a premise that was presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is that anyone can be excellent by practicing a skill for 10,000 hours. Excellence is based on practice, not talent. If you haven’t read Outliers, then I suggest reading that one first, since Bounce is an in-depth view of this one premise only, while Gladwell’s book explores many interesting concepts and is a more generally educational read. Lessons learned:
- Excellence is predicated on purposeful practice, which means stepping outside the comfort zone. If you’re not falling, you’re not learning. The training must always be pushing the limit of the trainee’s ability. Practice hours do not count towards the 10,000 requirement unless it is boundary-pushing practice. This is why excellent feedback during practice is essential and good coaches are so expensive. A good coach who is able to assess the trainee’s level and apply more difficult challenges, while providing useful feedback for course correction, literally changes he game. Studies have found that the reaction speed of top athletes are not better than the regular person. In fact, their natural reaction speed is often worse. The difference is that a trained athlete is better able to anticipate the location of the ball or puck, making the return swing or hit seem magic. This anticipation is learned via the 10,000 hours of watching the body language of opponents, and being able to anticipate where the ball lands based on the patterns of the body. Athletic hall of fames prove time and time again that purposeful practice, not talent, is what matters.
- Because good coaches who guides purposeful practice is so critical to excellence, environment and access is the difference between a world class athlete and a regular one. Consider this:
- Brazil churns out so many great soccer players because they have Futsal, which is football played in tight quarters. This training gives Brazilian soccer players a unique edge.
- At least 3 or 4 top table tennis players live on Syed, the author's, street in the UK. They had access to a school with an excellent table tennis coach, and could play with each other for practice.
- Biology changes to adapt to purposeful practice. Long distance runners develop larger hearts, fingers of concert pianists are longer. Regions of the brain that govern spatial navigation is larger for taxi drivers.
- The biggest difference between an average school and a great school is the mindset instilled in the students. There are two mindsets, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset buy into the talent myth, and when faced with below average outcomes will blame their intelligence. Growth mindset people faced with below average outcomes do not blame anything, but instead take that opportunity to learn and improve. In a math challenge given to pre-sorted fixed and growth mindset groups, the growth mindset group improved their abilities on their second try. The study then forced the mindset by complimenting people for their "intelligence" or their "effort." The results show that, when praised for "effort," aka growth mindset, 90% chose the harder test on round two. In comparison, when praised for "intelligence," most avoided the round two test, not wanting to do worse and therefore disprove their "intelligent" standing. This has huge implication on education. If you have children, praising them for effort rather than intelligence is a subtle but important difference that sets them on a path towards excellence or stagnation.
- Faith is foundational to performance. The sincerity of faith is important but the exact deity or target of faith is not relevant. Doubt is your enemy when it comes to performance, and faith is a counterforce. Examples abound. Mohammed Ali believes that his faith in God meant God was on his side and the match is in God's hands. He did not have doubt that he would win, and this opened up his peak performance. This athlete + faith story is not unique to Ali. For a non sport reference, placebo effects were observed on soldiers who sustained painful surgeries with no anesthesia. The soldiers were led to believe that anesthesia was administered when in reality it was only a salt drip on their arm. It was truly mind over matter.