Bounce by Matthew Syed

29 May

Winners aren’t born, they are made.

So says Matthew Syed, the ex-table tennis champion.

He says that to be the best, whether in sport, music, chess or anything else, it’s about being able to practise. And do the right kind of practice. The idea that talent is innate or intelligence god-given is nonsense and he goes on to prove it.

Beckham? He practised in a field every night, kicking a ball from the same spot again and again. Mozart? His father was a renowned music teacher. Tiger Woods? His father started teaching him when he was still in diapers.

It’s not just about practice, but the correct kind of practice: he learnt that the Chinese table tennis training regime meant using a double-sized table so that when they came back to a regular sized table it was easy. The Brazilians were so great at football because of a game they played on a smaller pitch with a really heavy ball and a smaller team which meant it was harder and you got more touches of the ball. Quality and quantity.

Opportunity counts too: ice hockey teams mostly have birthdays in January and February – that’s because of when the selection of kids happens; the best kids are simply the ones that are older in their academic year.

The best East African distance runners are in fact from Kenya. Further they’re from the small hilly Nandi area. They live at altitude, have a high protein & carbohydrate diet, and have no transport, so have to run miles to school each day; i.e. it’s not genetic. Similarly with West African / West Indies sprinters.

Failure is key to success. You must be prepared to fall again and again and again. He gives the example of an ice skater who perfected an amazing move only by falling on their backside hundreds of times before they could execute the trick.

He told the story of an eastern European chap that believed talent is a myth and proved it. He set out to make champions: he found a wife that would help him, then they had three daughters and trained them to be chess winners. They were the best women chess players the world has seen, one even ending up in the top five players of all time.

Syed then looks at the psychology of performance.

He covers choking – once we’re trained up we shouldn’t think about specifics, rather more generally, e.g. the golf swing should be smooth and hard, rather than thinking about shoulder position, wrist twist, etc.

Telling kids that they are intelligent is bad for them – they perform worse. You should praise their effort. See Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking research for more on this.

He talks about the power of belief – if you “know” you’re going to win, even against all the odds, you will perform better.

A great book to encourage you that you can achieve whatever you want with the right commitment, training and self-belief.


6 Responses to “Bounce by Matthew Syed”

  1. Damian June 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Gong Fu Panda part 1

  2. 5i5i August 12, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    Mo Farah won his second gold medal in the Olympics for his 5,000m and at the end of his interview he said: “To all the people out there: anything is possible, it’s just hard work and grafting”

    • Jenkins1974 October 24, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      In my current situation, I like the bit about success through failure. Through redundancy, I’ve really learnt to do my job better and to interview better – because I’ve had to see where I failed

    • A Rahman June 29, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

      Anything is possible if you are destined for it….if hard work and grafting paved the way to success and riches, all those labourers around the world should become rich and successful. Not everyone is born to be professors, engineers, lawyers and attain high statuses in other professions otherwise everyone would be doing these highly skilled jobs and none to do those at the lower end such as refuse collections, road sweepers / maintenance etc etc. All the kids that are taken into their academies from an early age should all become world class players but it does not happen because then you would have teams competing at the same level, all athletes would finish at the same time and Mo wouldn’t be winning so easily!! Having said that, I do not promote that one should not try….I see rickshaw drivers in Asian countries putting hard graft day after day but it does not make them rich, again that is if we talk about hard work and grafting. One should try and if he succeeds or not, depends on his destiny (though many people will not accept that destiny plays its part in all our lives).

      • 5i5i June 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

        Hi Ata.
        Thanks for your comment.
        What evidence do you have for the position you outline?

  3. Ata ur Rahman June 29, 2016 at 9:52 am #

    I am not an intellectual but I disagree. If champions were made, we all would be champions at our chosen field! Of the many examples given by Matt eg Beckham and football, many young kids are sourced by major clubs who train them all the same but do all become Pele’s, Maradonas, Zidanes Ronaldos and Messis. NO! They reach the level they are DESTINED to achieve. If we go by Matt’s theory, all of these youngsters should become world class players be cause they all go through the set training. If we all became high achievers, who would be doing the low level jobs needed to keep things ticking in this world. A highly educated person should become a dustman, road sweeper etc etc.
    While I do not agree with what I’ve read, I never discourage anyone from trying, studying, training. But to say winners are not born but made, is a rather flawed opinion in my opinion.

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