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Talent Identification Books

Talent Identification

1. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extra-Ordinary Athletic Performance

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein “The Sports Gene” is an enjoyable book that shares the latest of modern genetic research as it relates to elite athleticism. In the never-ending quest to settle the debate of nature versus nature, David Epstein takes the readers on a journey into sports and tries to answer how much does each contributes.

This fascinating 352-page book includes the following sixteen chapters:

1. Beat by an Underhand Girl: The Gene-Free Model of Expertise,

2. A Tale of Two High Jumpers: (Or: 10,000 Hours Plus or Minus 10,000 Hours),

3. Major League Vision and the Greatest Child Athlete Sample Ever: The Hardware and Software Paradigm,

4. Why Men Have Nipples,

5. The Talent of Trainability,

6. Superbaby, Bully Whippets, and the Trainability of Muscle

7. The Big Bang of Body Types,

8. The Vitruvian NBA Player,

9. We Are All Black (Sort Of): Race and Genetic Diversity,

10. The Warrior-Slave Theory of Jamaican Sprinting,

11. Malaria and Muscle Fibers,

12. Can Every Kalenjin Run?,

13. The World’s Greatest Accidental (Altitudinous) Talent Sieve,

14. Sled Dogs, Ultrarunners, and Couch Potato Genes,

15. The Heartbreak Gene: Death, Injury, and Pain on the Field,

16 The Gold Medal Mutation.

Talent Identification

Talent Identification Positives:

1. Well-written, well-researched book. Epstein is very engaging and keeps the science at a very accessible level.

2. Fascinating topic that sports fans will enjoy. A look at elite athleticism through the eyes of science. Sports elites. I’m there!

3. Epstein does a fantastic job of skill fully handling the very sensitive topic of race and genetics. Any minor miscue and it would have derailed the book but Epstein never lets that happen and should be commended for his utmost care. 

4. There are very few books on this interesting topic and this one covers multiple sports. And behind it, all is the quest to find what’s behind elite athleticism, “The question for scientists is: What accounts for that variance, practice, genes, or something else?”

5. You are guaranteed to learn something new. As an avid sports fan and reader, I didn’t expect to learn too many new facts but I am always humbled and pleasantly surprised when I do.

More Positives:

6. The importance of experience in athletics. “Studies that track the eye movements of experienced performers, whether chess players, pianists, surgeons, or athletes, have found that as experts gain the experience they are quicker to sift through visual information and separate the wheat from the chaff.”

7. Golfers will pick up a valuable scientific tip…I’m not going to spoil it here.

8. The 10,000 hours rule in perspective. “Studies of athletes have tended to find that the top competitors require far less than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach elite status. According to the scientific literature, the average sport-specific practice hours to reach the international levels in basketball, field hockey, and wrestling are closer to 4,000, 4,000, and 6,000, respectively.”

9. Understanding the importance of visual acuity and its importance in sports like baseball. “Coincidentally, or perhaps not, twenty-nine often is the age at which visual acuity starts to deteriorate and the age when hitters, as a group, begin to decline.”

10. Important lessons shared, “To this day,” Woods said in 2000, “my dad has never asked me to go play golf. I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play.”

More Positives:

11. Addressing the differences in gender. “Much of sexual differentiation comes down to a single gene on the Y chromosome: the SRY gene, or “sex-determining region Y” gene. Insofar as there is an “athleticism gene,” the SRY gene is it.” Great stuff!

12. So who was the greatest high-school athlete of all time according to ESPN? Find out.

13. The impact of the Human Genome Project as it relates to sports. The naturally fit six…

14. The science behind muscle growth. “Something that myostatin does signals muscles to cease growing. They had discovered the genetic version of a muscle stop sign. In the absence of myostatin, muscle growth explodes.” A lot of good information here.

15. Discusses physical traits by the sport that gives the athletes innate advantages over the competition. “The height of a sprinter is often critical to his best event. The world’s top competitors in the 60-meter sprint are almost always shorter than those in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints because shorter legs and lower mass are advantageous for acceleration.”

More Positives:

16. A cool look at the NBA. My favorite team of all time, the 95-96 Chicago Bulls (Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman). Some eye-opening facts concerning wingspan.

17. Scientific observations, “Low-latitude Africans and Australian Aborigines had the proportionally longest legs and shortest torsos. So this is not strictly about ethnicity so much as geography.”

18. Race and genetic diversity. “Kidd’s work, along with that of other geneticists, archaeologists, and paleontologists, supports the “recent African origin” model–that essentially every modern human outside of Africa can trace his or her ancestry to a single population that resided in sub-Saharan East Africa as recently as ninety thousand years ago.” Honestly, where would we be without understanding the grand theory of evolution? An excellent chapter, worth the price of the book.

19. Mind-blowing facts, ” In an example particularly relevant to sports, about 10 percent of people with European ancestry have two copies of a gene variant that allows them to dope with impunity.” Wow!

More Positives

20. An interesting look at Jamaican sprinting and Kenyan long-term running. What’s behind the success? “Consider this: seventeen American men in history have run a marathon faster than 2:10 (or a 4:58 per mile pace); thirty-two Kalenjin men did it just in October 2011.” Say what?

21. The honest limitations of the young science of genetics, “Just as it is tough to find genes for height–even though we know they exist–it is extraordinarily difficult to pin down genes for even one physiological factor involved in running, let alone all of them.”

22. Is motivation genetic? Interesting.

23. Genetic diseases. “According to statistics that Maron has compiled, at least one high school, college, or pro athlete with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) will drop dead somewhere in the United States every other week.”

24. An excellent epilogue on the perfect athlete, “In reality, any case for sports expertise that leans entirely on either nature or nurture is a straw-man argument.”

25. Notes and selected citations included.


1. Football is the most popular sports in America bar none but wasn’t really given as much paper as I was hoping for; sure you get some stories about Jerome Bettis, Herschel Walker, head injuries and weight lifting…but not the treatment a sport of its magnitude would warrant.

2. The science is very basic and done so to reach a larger audience. Links or an appendix would have given curious readers more to immediately munch on.

3. At no fault of the author, the science of genetics is still too young to be able to answer the most demanding questions to a satisfactory level.

4. No formal separate bibliography…you have to surf through the notes.

5. Few links.

In summary, the perfect summer book

Also, this was a page-turner of a book that provides us a glimpse into elite athleticism through the eyes of science. David Epstein provides sports enthusiasts with a scientific treat. One thing is perfectly clear…genetics is very complex and we are in its infancy. That being said, it’s a fascinating science and its increased understanding will be continued to be applied to the world of sports. Epstein provides readers with an excellent appetizer of things; if you are interested in how genetics is being applied to extraordinary athletic performance, I highly recommend this book!

Talent Identification

Talent Identification

2. Talent Identification: The Talent Code

What is the secret of talent? How do we unlock it? In this groundbreaking work, journalist and New York Times bestselling author Daniel Coyle provides parents, teachers, coaches, business people—and everyone else—with tools they can use to maximize potential in themselves and others.

Whether you’re coaching soccer or teaching a child to play the piano, writing a novel or trying to improve your golf swing, this revolutionary book shows you how to grow talent by tapping into a newly discovered brain mechanism.

Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math , or just about anything.

Where does extraordinary talent come from?

Daniel Coyle comes up with an intriguing answer inThe Talent Code, a highly readable account of the neuroscience of skill and talent.

Though popular perception has often regarded talent as something otherworldly –  a gift of the gods, perhaps, and certainly nothing that anyone could do anything about – in fact, according to modern neuroscience, talent is much more mundane, being nothing more than the wiring of chains of neural circuits inside the brain.

It all has to do with myelin, the substance that insulates the synaptic connections between the neurons

It all has to do with myelin, the substance that insulates the synaptic connections between the neurons. Every human skill is the result of the formation of such synaptic chains of nerve fibers. When brain circuits are fired the right way, myelin is generated, insulating those connections, making the signal flowing through them clearer, stronger, faster.

According to Coyle, the degree of this insulation is what is responsible for talent. While the more time and energy, you put into the right practice. Hence the more myelin is deposited on those neural circuits associated with that practice, the more talent you achieve.

It is as if the brain builds more broadband for those circuits that are activated in the right way. The right way is that of deep practice.  Hence one of the three key ingredients that are responsible for the creation of the neural architecture of talent. While the other two identified by Coyle are ignition and master coaching.

What is deep practice?

It is the struggle against that which is just beyond the grasp of one’s ability. Struggling with something difficult makes you smarter because it signals to the brain to start building more broadband in repose. The struggle is not optional – it is neurologically required. In order for a skill circuit to fire optimally, it must first fire suboptimally; in other words, it must first fail. You must make mistakes and pay attention to them if you are to become skilled. And you must keep up the practice, firing that skill circuit until enough myelin is build up around it.

This insight is revolutionary because it suggests that talent can be manufactured. All you need is a space in which you can practice making errors, struggling until you can overcome them. It is also counter-intuitive because we imagine that the person with talent somehow does a thing right the first time.

But deep practice takes place in the narrow gap between what you already know and what you need to do. This deep practice does not involve threshing. There exists a “sweet spot” between your skill and what you’re reaching to achieve. It is in that gap that talent is born. How exactly does one do this?

Talent Identification Coyle enumerates further aspects of deep practice:

  1. absorb the whole thing;
  2. break it into parts or “chunks”;
  3. slowly practice each part;
  4. repetition.

But practice alone is not enough. You need to love what you’re doing, you need the desire to achieve a goal – you need fire. Without such a deep need to practice every day, you will never develop talent because you will never endure the long years of necessary deep practice. Coyle calls this desire ignition.


Ignition is really faith in oneself, or, more specifically, in one’s ultimate achievement of the idealized self. It is a belief that one is a musician, a writer, or a signer, and this faith is the zeal that motivates the long years of deep practice necessary to materialize that idealized self.

The ignition can be kept alive by a good mentor, teacher or coach. Good coaching has everything to do with helping the student learn techniques to overcome failure. A good teacher knows the subject, the student and how to help the student connect to the subject, and he keeps the flame of the ignition going by helping the student believe in himself.

Faith is of the key elements that differentiate those who are able to commit to the long march that deep practice requires and those who were not. Those who believe that they will ultimately reach the end will do so. But those who lose hope will fail to put in the necessary years of deep practice to become talented.

The book is highly inspiring and its message deeply affirming of human potential to achieve almost anything one desires if only one has the determination to put in the requisite amount of deep practice. It’s filled with thought-provoking information. And its insights have important implications for other aspects of the human experience beyond talent and skill.

The processes described by Coyle, for example, also apply to problems such as

  • depression,
  • anxiety
  • OCD and many other disorders of the brain,

In conclusion, suggesting that overcoming these problems is a matter of developing new circuitry in the brain by practicing having different thoughts.

Hence one of the thought-provoking aspects is

  1. the idea that once we learn skills to the point
  2. where they become second nature
  3. they pass into the unconscious mind
  4. a storehouse of all such skills
  5. through something called automaticity.

But skills and talent are not the only circuits that become part of the unconscious, as anyone who ever heard of Freud will no doubt know; maladaptive circuits hide there, too. While, in turn, makes one think about who and what we really are. Also Circuits, deeply insulted by myelin, our personalities, seem to be just patterns in the gray matter. But if this seems depressing, it also has a silver lining: we can change, no matter who we are and how afflicted we seem to be.

So we just need that

  1. spark of ignition
  2. the faith in the ultimate success
  3. the fire to start the deep practice of new thoughts
  4. behaviors and new selves.

Article on Talent Identification Placement for Speed and Power Athletes 

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