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CoachEricDeSanto 07-13-2009 02:22 AM

The Talent Code
Hey Everyone,
I wanted to spread the word on a reference Terry made on the coaches forum that I don't recall him posting here. It is a book called the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The book is an observational study of talent "hot spots" around the world. The "Hot spot" concept is a small area that has a greater than expected number of highly ranked individuals in any area. For example, there is one tennis club in Russia that has produced more top 20 female tennis players than the entire united states.

I have just started reading this book and I am already impressed. One of the first things they mention is that these hotspots all use "deep practice". This should ring true for all of us as focused attention is one of our central ideas. But I started thinking about an example they gave in the book. The example was of a girl videoed practicing the clarinet. She played a few notes. Missed one. Stopped. Studied the written music. Hummed the tune. Air practiced her finger movement. Then picked up the instrument to try again. This time she got several notes farther before she repeated the process.

My thought was this. She had a clear image in her head of what the song should sound like. In our practice, the most common struggle I find is that we often don't know the difference between what we feel and what are aiming for. For example, we often use the focal point "patient lead arm" in workshops and discussions here. Almost every workshop, clients tell me that they were being patient.

The problem is that the term "patient lead hand" is difficult to evaluate. I would like to suggest that we all, in our practice try pick words that allow us to self-evaluate. For example, in the past couple workshops, I have changed "patient lead hand" into "the catch is still at your head when the spear is finished". (I haven't found catchy wording yet, and this is a slight, purposeful overexaggeration, but it works.) We can check that, when we complete a switch, the anchoring arm has not yet passed our head. That ability to self-evaluate is what allows the deep practice.

Another example, "mail slot entry" is hard to evaluate. Sorry Terry, I seem to be picking on your words today. No disrespect intended. We used to use the concept of silent swimming. I like this better because, if you can hear your arm as it enters, you are not doing a mail slot entry. Silence is evaluatable (I think I just made up that word.) One of the things I like about silence, is that your entry must change with your speed to keep it silent. The faster you go, the more it sneaks forward. The slower you go, the more steep the entry must be. By evaluating your silence, you are also training yourself to automatically find the best entry point for your speed. This automatic adjustment is something that Coyle and Terry consider an element of mastery.

I have often used self-evaluative cues for skating such as:
Feel air on your hip.
Feel the water hit the top of your top shoulder.
Your top heal breaks the surface.
When you hit the wall, your hand is on the cross bar of the + on the wall (this + on the wall is remarkably consistent in most pools.)

I would like to suggest that we all pay particular attention on our next few swims to find sensations that we can evaluate to know that we are doing things correctly. Then make our focal points relate to those sensations.

I would also strongly suggest this book (at least from the first few pages.) It seems really cool.


GeneP 07-13-2009 11:27 AM

Hope you continue posting about notions in the book as you continue reading. Perhaps the phrases can stay the same and the description of the phrase contain procedures that can be evaluated?

shuumai 07-14-2009 01:21 AM

Nice... I found the audio version of the Talent Code at my local library. (6 CDs)

CoachEricDeSanto 07-14-2009 05:24 AM

OK. The next "OH DUH" moment, but exiting connection. In "The Talent Code," Coyle notes that all these hotbeds of talent give the students a great big picture view to follow. They know exactly what they are trying to imitate. They spend a huge amount of time watching.

How many of the questions on this forum ask to explain things in words that could be easily observed by watching video?

I had two other connections that really fit this.
1. Mirror neurons. One of my advanced biology students introduced me to the concept of mirror neurons a few years back. She presented the case that mirror neurons are responsible for the contagious quality of yawning. Mirror neurons (as much as I could understand from my student, I love when they far surpass my ability) are neurons that seem to be preset to make us mimic what we see. Monkey see Monkey do is hardwired into us with these neurons. Spending hours watching with focus helps us produce movements that mimic what we see.

2. "Look for something different." This spring I read a great book on evolution called "Your inner fish." (I am a high school biology teacher, I read things like this for fun.) In the book, the author describes his first fossil hunting expedition. For three days (12-16 hour days usually) he would go out with the rest of the team, scouring the rocks for fossils and be the only one coming back empty handed. His mentor just kept saying "look for something different." All of a sudden, on the fourth day, the rocks exploded with textures and colors that he had missed. Fossils jumped out at him. He later mentioned that he know understands that every fossil trip begins the same way. He just plans three extra days for his brain to figure out what the "difference" is in this type of rock.

Perhaps we have to watch enough film of Phelps, Hackett, Thorpe, etc. to "see something different".

I am really enjoying this book. Thanks again Terry.

shuumai 07-14-2009 03:36 PM


Originally Posted by CoachEricD (Post 4342)
1. Mirror neurons.

2. "Look for something different."

You mentioned watching video with the above two ideas in mind. One limitation of video is that it's 2-dimensional. Even with multiple angles, we need to piece together what is happening in 3 dimensions. Still, I agree that watching videos of experts is very useful. I'm surprised when someone says otherwise.

I can't wait to hear that book (since I only have access to an audio version). Terry reads interesting books. Hey, maybe we should encourage Terry to make a blog entry with just a list of recommended reading.

CoachEricDeSanto 07-16-2009 05:43 PM

Hey All,
Next installment. This book is fun.

3 rules of deep practice:
1. Chunk it up - much like our drills. Take the stroke and break it into very specific parts that you can master. Then chunk them into larger pieces before putting the whole stroke together. For example, when learning skate I used to focus on lead arm, then head position, then pressure on the arm pit. Now I chunk it into "front end".
2. Repeat it - fairly obvious. You have to practice with focus. He does point out that you don't need massive repetition. Just focus.
3. Feel it - This is the one that got me. Coyle summarizes the feeling of deep practice this way:
"It's the feeling, in short, of being a staggering baby, of intently, clumsily,lurching toward a goal and toppling over. It's a wobbly, discomfiting sensation that any sensible person would instinctively try to avoid."

He describes that in every hotbed of talent he studied, students described their practice as uncomfortable. It feels like your goal is always just out of reach. And before long, they began to enjoy this feeling.

We talk so much about effortless on this forum. And many of the questions we face are from frustrated students not getting the effortless feeling. I know I have often felt frustrated in the process. Perhaps we have to separate that feeling of constant striving for a goal from the feeling of physical ease.

One question I am left with is how to identify a goal that is too much of a reach that would lead to true frustration and a goal that is just out of reach that will lead to rapid improvement.

THe next section is about motivation. Man, this is cool.

ayesr 07-17-2009 12:10 AM

Echo GeneP's missive...
CoachEricD, CEO TL, Shu, thanks to you guys. I echo GeneP's missive - please do go on with your inputs on this thread (though as for me, having gone thru some of the wide ranging discussion forums that you all have been in, I have learned a lot).

At my age, the perpetual propulsion concepts in virtually all strokes, have been radical, life changing...if I maly use the phrase. Learning butterfly at 59...well I never thought I could...

CoachEricD, going back to Mr. Coyle's book. Thanks for your continued service - book reading, analysis, implementation, facilitating, etc. - and hope to see and be there at the CONCLUSION.

The concept of visualization which some gurus preach, practice seems to be on the same parallel track as Mr. Coyle's observations.

Your project - to develop more descriptive, catchy word pictures to describe various facets of swimming strokes - which TI is so fond of (and I've learned that Terry has been responsible), will further enhance the value of TI. Hope to be part of this exercise.

Somehow, the process of trying to reach a goal and descriptions of one's feelings, sensations experienced in trying to reach the goal are inseparable. Frequently, we describe the achievement of a goal in quantitative metrics or in qualitative means. Thus, the words uncomfortable, ease, painful, glide, etc. to describe what we feel as we go thru the process of achieving the objective. And frequently, we know that we are in that enviable stage - the breakthrough, or the achievement itself - because of the feeling/sensations that we are experiencing.


stevereagan 07-17-2009 05:22 AM

Interesting reading Eric's review of "The Talent Code" as I bought that book after reading the NY Times review. In fact, I have 2 other books which seem to complement it well (I've almost finished one and the other two are in the queue to be read) ...

One, "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, talks about two so-called "Mindsets" or ways of thinking about ones talents and abilities (i.e., self-belief systems). One, the "fixed mindset", is a belief that one's talents are largely innate and fixed, the other, "growth mindset", is a belief that one's talents and abilities can be developed and enhanced over a period of time. So, for the maximum benefit of nurturing one's talents a la "The Talent Code", a "growth mindset" would seemingly be required ... This book I have almost finished reading ...

The other book, "Rapt, Attention and the Focused Life", by Winifred Gallagher, talks about focus and attention to what one is attempting to accomplish, and not allowing distractions to compromise those qualities. I bought this book (unread as of now), again based on a NY Times review.

I intend to finish "Mindset", then read "The Talent Code", followed by "Rapt" - I have a certain, difficult goal in mind for 2010 of which swimming plays a part (among other things ...), and since it is a discipline which I'm still working to improve, all three books can likely help me be ready next June ...

-- Steve

stevereagan 07-17-2009 07:21 AM

The Talent Code - Website

shuumai 07-19-2009 02:53 AM

Earlier in part 1 of the book, it said that once circuits are formed, they are permanent. Habits that are hard to break were an example. It said that newer circuits need to be formed to replace the unwanted circuits, or something like that. Later in part 1, it said that people need to keep practising to maintain their circuits, especially as they age. Maybe I missed something, but it seems like a contradiction.

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