Any book you read generally has one, maybe two messages the author wants to get across to their readers. The message contained in Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed is that talent is a myth and the way people go from being good at something, to being great at something, to being the greatest is all down to practice.
Syed starts out by describing how, during the 1980s, Silverdale Road in Reading, England produced 11 nationally and internationally notable table tennis players (with him being one of them). It occurred to him that the chances of 11 individuals, who were all ‘talented’ at playing table tennis, being born in the same road (and immediate vicinity) was pretty remote and this led him to wonder how it had happened. This triggered his enquiry and sets the tone for the book in which he deconstructs commonly held beliefs surrounding greatness, examines and analyses them with respect to research and then concludes talent is a myth.
The key message for us all held in this book isn’t the need for practice however. There are many books that will talk of the need for hours of practice but the key message that sets this book apart from many others is the emphasis that is placed on the importance of ‘purposeful practice’. To illustrate this Syed uses quotes and examples from Venus and Serena Williams, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, Jack Nicklaus, Ronaldo to name but a few. I remember once talking to Neil Donoghue about practice and he mentioned how his friends would make fun of him for ‘showing off’ when they were out riding. The thing that he recognised, but that was lost on his mates, was that every manual he pulled on the trails and every tree root he popped a jump off was allowing him to amass experience and ultimately expertise in his riding. He and his mates would all spend hours together riding their bikes but all of his mates didn’t reach the same level of riding that he did. The reason? While they all practiced riding their bikes during those hours, he purposefully practiced riding his bike pulling manuals, endos, wheelies, pumping, popping off tree roots etc.
There’s more evidence for this in Brandon Semenuk’s ‘Life Behind Bars’ series. In series 2 episode 2 Brandon, Logan Peat & R-Dog spend their time having bunny hop & jump competitions. The worlds best practicing bunny hops? There’s a difference though as these guys are purposefully practicing bunny hops. They’re challenging each other to see who can jump the highest and who can jump the furtherest with the shortest run up. Syed refers to the work of Anders Ericsson (the man behind the 10,000 hour rule) who suggests that the elite don’t practice success, the elite practice failure. They consistently strive for progress and to achieve this they consistently push themselves beyond their ability. Tiger Woods doesn’t practice bunker shots, Tiger Woods treads golf balls into the sand and then practices bunker shots. Brandon Semenuk doesn’t practice jumps, Brandon Semenuk reduces his run up to a point he can’t carry enough speed to make the jump then practices jumping it anyway. See for yourself……
There’s a lot more that you can gain from this book and it’s a recommended read if you’re serious about progressing your riding (or progressing in school, or your job, or others sports etc for that matter – anything that involves learning) but you can start applying the key principle it is based on today. The next time you’re on your bike make sure you’re not just out riding your bike – you want to be out purposefully practicing riding your bike. Remember – it takes 20 hours to be good (see my post on the significance of 20 hours practice), 10,000 hours to be world class!