Originally published as BOUNCE: How Champions Are Made
The ‘Freakonomics of Sport’…
What are the real secrets of sporting success, and what lessons do they offer about life in general? Why doesn’t Tiger Woods “choke”? Why are the best figure skaters those that have fallen over the most and why has one small street in Reading produced more top table tennis players than the rest of the country put together.
As a three-time Commonwealth table-tennis champion and two-time Olympian, Matthew Syed is perfectly placed to show what it takes to get to the top in any discipline. And as an award-winning writer for the sports and comment pages of the Times – and holder of a prize-winning degree from Oxford University – he knows the facts, the science and the personalities better than anyone.
In his book Matt overturns myths and outdated thinking to show “why it is that top sportsmen seem to perceive faster, smarter and deeper than the rest of us.” He draws on the latest in neuroscience and psychology to discover why so many top athletes are superstitious, and meets the Hungarian man who turned his daughters into three of the best chess players in history – and explains how.
Along the way, he introduces an extraordinary cast of footballers, cricketers, baseball players, speedskaters, scientists and experts – and interviews the East German athlete who became a man, and her husband. Matthew’s book is crammed full of fascinating stories and telling studies, insights and statistics, all brought together to make a wonderfully thought-provoking read.
Matthew’s book is not simply the Freakonomics of sport though – it looks at big questions such as the nature of talent, what kind of practice actually works, how to achieve motivation, drugs in sport (and life) and whether black people really are faster runners. Fresh, ground-breaking and tackling subjects with wide appeal, Matthew’s book is sure to be one of the most talked-about of the year.
Syed, sportswriter and columnist for the London Times, takes a hard look at performance psychology, heavily influenced by his own ego-damaging but fruitful epiphany. At the age of 24, Syed became the #1 British table tennis player, an achievement he initially attributed to his superior speed and agility. But in retrospect, he realizes that a combination of advantages a mentor, good facilities nearby, and lots of time to hone his skills set him up perfectly to become a star performer. He admits his argument owes a debt to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, but he aims to move one step beyond it, drawing on cognitive neuroscience research to explain how the body and mind are transformed by specialized practice. He takes on the myth of the child prodigy, emphasizing that Mozart, the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, and Susan Polgar, the first female grandmaster, all had live-in coaches in the form of supportive parents who put them through a ton of early practice. Cogent discussions of the neuroscience of competition, including the placebo effect of irrational optimism, self-doubt, and superstitions, all lend credence to a compelling narrative; readers who gobbled up Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational will flock to this one.