Growing Talent - Hot Spots


Spring 2010 Issue

Growing Talent: Interview with Daniel Coyle
Author: Heidi Smith

This article relates to Growing Talent: Interview with Daniel Coyle

While researching The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle traveled to “hotbeds” around the globe to discover their training secrets. In the excerpt below from his website, he shares what he observed in these very diverse yet oddly similar environments.

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Music: Meadowmount School of Music Westport, New York, USA

Growing Talent - Hot SpotsA 500 percent boost in learning velocity doesn’t happen by magic. It’s a “turn inward,” according to Meadowmount teachers, where the students don’t practice harder, but deeper. This means:

Practicing more slowly. Then still more slowly. Then even MORE slowly. The rule of thumb: If a passer-by can recognize the song, it’s not being practiced properly. Skill circuits don’t “care” how fast you go – what matters is firing it correctly, the same rule followed by tennis players at Spartak.

Breaking the skill into chunks, then reconstructing it. Meadowmounters scissor their sheet music into strips, learn each strip, then rebuild the entire piece. This reconstructive act (which, by the way, is exactly how teenage Ben Franklin taught himself to write essays) works because it exactly mirrors and reinforces the desired skill-circuits – which are, after all, literal connections in our brains.

Locating errors. Meadowmounters practice what they call “discernment”: finding the mistake, and using it to navigate toward the right notes – the basics of deep practice.

Soccer: Brazilian Soccer Schools* Leeds, England

* These are British training camps that teach Brazilian-style soccerGrowing Talent - Hot Spots

This project, begun in 1998 by an elementary schoolteacher named Simon Clifford, has transformed a former soccer backwater into a veritable factory of talented players. Its main tool: a Brazilian game called futbol de salao (“soccer in the room”), an indoor five-a-side version of the sport. The ball is smaller and heavier—creating more control. The field is tiny—putting a premium on vision, anticipation, and quick, accurate passes. The play is lightning-fast—forcing players to anticipate and adapt. Futbol de salao uses deep practice to build skills at high velocity. Commentators love to talk about how “creative” Brazilian players are – but that’s not quite right. The truth is, they’ve been practicing that creativity for their entire lives.

Futbol de salao develops skill circuits far faster than the outdoor game, because players:

Touch the ball more often—600 percent more often, according to one study. More touches—in other words, more circuit-firings—create more skill.

Are forced to develop more moves. Merely booting the ball down the field—often the first option in the outdoor game—doesn’t work. Futbol de salao players practice lots of fakes and tricks— because they have to. As one Brazilian said, “Futsal is our national laboratory of improvisation.”

Grow accustomed to operating in tight spaces. When they get to the outdoor game, futsal players feel as if they have all the room in the world.

Baseball: Pabao Little League Baseball Willemstad, Curacao

Growing Talent - Hots SpotsA scrappy, undersize group of kids from a small Caribbean island have ascended to Little League baseball’s most illustrious stage: the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. For six of the past eight years, in a tournament where merely qualifying two consecutive years ranks as a remarkable achievement, Curacao has reached the semifinals, winning the title in 2004 and finishing second in 2005.

Ignited in 1996 by local boy Andruw Jones’s dramatic World Series home runs, Curacao began its rise from mediocrity to international success. But the truly remarkable thing wasn’t the ignition (after all, other places have had local boys make good), but rather the tools they used to capture and funnel that energy into deep practice. They do this by:

Modeling. It’s their system: the older players come back and help with coaching, modeling the right way to execute skills and sending a clear message: if he can do it, why can’t I?

Creating a culture of drills. The coaches and kids bring a near-religious attentiveness to the smallest practice drills. They’re all like tiny coaches, explaining how their swing works, or the best way to field a grounder. One thirteen-year-old player spent twenty minutes explaining why a sockball (made of two tightly folded socks) was the best way to learn to hit a curveball.

Compressing the game. Curacao doesn’t have many fields, and so in yet another classic example of advantages masquerading as disadvantages, they shrink practice to tiny areas. The coach frequently pitches batting practice from thirty feet, instead of the conventional forty-five – a strategy which produces terrific results.

Tennis: Spartak Tennis Club Moscow, Russia

Growing Talent - Hot SpotsSpartak can be summed up in one word: tekhnika (technique). Every moment, every resource is devoted to helping players with the most essential task: hitting the ball correctly. Or, to put it a different way, to building a reliable, fast skill circuit. To do this, they:

Slow it down. Just like the violinists at Meadowmount, the Spartak players do their swings in slow-motion. All players also follow the same warmup routine—which starts with simple eyehand drills where they bounce the ball and catch it—whether they are five years old or a world top-ten player.

Imitate. They swing without the ball quite a lot, a drill called imitatsiya. The ball, in their view, is a distraction. The point is to make the swing—to fire the circuit properly.

Games can wait. The rule at Spartak is that players can only compete after three years of practice – a rule that would never fly in the States, but which, if you think of it in terms of skill circuits, makes perfect sense. Competition introduces a gigantic new variable, where skill circuits matter less than the score. As a Spartak coach said, “Technique is everything. If you begin playing without technique, it is big mistake. Big, big mistake!”

Have you ever witnessed a “Talent Hotbed”?

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