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Book review: The Talent Code

A fascinating book that sheds new light on how neural connections form

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Talent Code ‘ by Daniel Coyle and already I feel it’s one of those books I will refer to again and again. It’s a well researched book describing daniels theory of how talent is best progressed.

He uses research from state of the art thinkers and introduces new perspectives such as the impact of our new understanding of myelin. The bodies electrical insulator on how skills are developed.

I first read daniels work in a new york times article about ‘how to grow a super athlete‘. It was such a ground breaking article in my eyes for several reasons.

Firstly it resoundly came from the nurture end of the talent debate. Daniel is very clear that there is always a clear story behind an athletes success. As long as you’re prepared to look hard enough.

Secondly he applies the latest biological research to find a plausible, physical answer to this challenging problem. Myelin. My dad is an electrical engineer and deals with wires, electricity and circuits so I was brought up with the notion that proper insulation, also known as shielding, in electrical circuits is as important as the wires themselves.

Think about the effect of the radio signals from your phone on the electric signals flowing inside medical and flying equipment. Newer phones provides better shielding for the radio signals they emit so they don’t effect other equipment as much as they used to.

Thirdly his work has stayed in my mind since I first read his article on growing super athletes a few years ago. When I recently came across another article talking about his Talent Code principle, I clicked through to his talent code website and saw that very article linked from the side menu. I thought ‘this guy likes that same article about myelin and developing tennis stars’. Then I noticed the author and realised he had written it and that I like a lot of his work. His delivery, approach and message resonate with me.

The book covers 3 main concepts. 

  1. Deep practice: Practice slowly and deliberately exactly what you want to achieve
  2. Ignition: light a spark in someone. They must want it badly enough to put the effort in
  3. Master coaching: Every one is different. The best coaches use this with every instruction

For me, this book distills into a set of pages the knowledge I have gained from years of investigating this area. during my Physical education degree at Loughborough University I heard of the Teaching games for understanding approach. It’s very similar. In my a level PE course before that, so much of what we learnt was based around the ideas expressed in this book. 

If you perform a skill badly in practice you’ll learn it that way. If you rush it you won’t get it. All top athletes focus on quality over quantity. I’ve seen this for years. Daniel has given us a clear reason why. What’s rare, at least in the Amazon ebook I bought, was the huge list of references at the end. That is akin to the extras you get on DVD. They really added to the whole. 

My lifelong pursuit is an understanding of human performance. How far can one person push themselves through their life without breaking. It is taking me on a fascinating journey into the most advanced technology we know of, the human body.

The talent code is a really important work putting some of this elaborate jigsaw together.

Overall I’m really glad I came across this. It’s helped me realise that I want to be a master coach. Being a tool developer for the web I want to make tools to facilitate coaching online. I’m starting to flesh this out elsewhere and I’ll write about it soon. 

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