The Talent Code (2009) by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything ElseThe Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coyle Says Deep Practice Makes Perfect

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What struck the most relevant chord in the first chapter of Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code is the fact that the awareness of making mistakes can be beneficial to those who seek to succeed. Talented people are often considered at having an intrinsic ability that is given at the time of birth and manifests itself over time. Coyle, however, agues that inherent talent is a small part of success and that the habits of making mistakes and learning to improve on such mistakes are the true keys to success.

the-talent-codeTo begin, Coyle argues that deep practice rather than natural talent is a primary ingredient in someone who becomes successful. He offers a memory test that includes two columns: in the left column words are given in complete; in the right column words are missing letters. Coyle argues that more people will remember more words from the column on the right because the mind must struggle, and ”that microsecond” of stumbling can make ”all the difference” because the mind did not practice harder but ”practiced deeper” (p 17). What is happening in Coyle’s example is that the mind cannot rely on memorization techniques alone (as in learning a craft or skill) but must also analyze and interpret in order to achieve mastery.

 

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One can find a similar technique in instructional pedagogy with Bloom’s Taxonomy which lists six activities from the basic to most expert, and the cognitive activities (from lowest to highest) are Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating (Krathwohl p 214). Coyle does not offer anything new to the world of coaching or teaching when he suggests that people should perform deep practice, which in essence is someone moving beyond recalling and understanding, but moving towards the higher forms of cognitive abilities found in analyzing and evaluating. When the mind analyzes the missing letters and then evaluates the best options to complete the words, the mind will have a better chance at remembering the words in the column. Coyle’s deep practice is another name for Bloom’s taxonomy, which was first developed in 1956.

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Daniel Coyle

Next, Coyle argues that deep practice found in Brazilian futsal was the method for success for a teenage-British soccer team. ”A top Brazilian player,” writes Coyle, ”spends thousands of hours at the game” (p 26). Certainly deep practice was a part of futsal, as Coyle illustrates, but does not fully explain how young Brazilians were growing up and becoming world soccer champions, like Pele or Juninho. The missing link was the type of soccer ball the Brazilian boys were playing with in such a small confined space.

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And this is where Coyle slips away from his argument concerning deep practice and moves toward math as being a reason for the soccer players’ success. ”The smaller heavier ball demands and rewards more precise handling,” writes Coyle, and later on, ”sharp passing is paramount: the game is all about looking for angles and spaces and working quick combinations” (p 27). Nowhere does Coyle mention deep practice but he does mention Simon Clifford, who saw futsal and returned to England and adopted the game for British teens who went on to beat the Scottish and Irish national teams (p 29). Clifford’s team’s success had more to do with building leg muscles by kicking a ”smaller, heavier ball” around than focusing on their mistakes and how they could do it better. In addition, the boys were forced to play in tight spaces which enhanced their reflexes and sped up their decision making processes. The success found in England had little to do with deep practice and more to do with changing the nature of the game to enhance skills over a period of several years.

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To sum up, Coyle’s method of deep practice is helpful and relevant for anyone wanting to build either cognitive or physical skills. By focusing on minute details over and over again, just like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did in basketball, people can get better and improve on skills already in place.

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Repetition and analysis are certainly some of the keys, but are in no way the only keys needed for success. What made Pele and Jordan great was their ability to be creative (notice Bloom’s highest level) and innovate what was practiced to perform and accomplish miraculous feats. Deep practice may be the beginning to success in areas from sports to language, but it is often the act of spontaneous creation (i.e., the moment when preparation meets chance and produces a genuine and creative action) that comes from instinct that may ultimately define someone.

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References:

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. Print.

Krathwohl, David R. ”A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview.” Theory into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 4, Autumn. The Ohio State University, 2002. Print.

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