This book is definitely important when emphasizing the importance of practice.

Plot

Syed wrote this book in order to explain the fact that talent does not determine any person’s success, rather hours of practice (specifically 10,000). He proceeds throughout the book to explain the intensity of the practice and the mind-set needed to practice.

The ending was quite abrupt, since it did not have a concluding chapter that wrapped up everything written in the book, though I did understood the whole point of the book.

Themes

Syed usually includes sports into the book as a way of explaining the importance of practice, whether it is table-tennis or hockey. Though he talks about other professions where reactions happen instantly that save lives, such as nurses who were able to identify sicknesses in babies in prenatal care even when the signs were not visibly present. Syed argued that it had to do with those professions having enough experience to notice common patterns.

The prevalence of celebrities, including Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, and many others, provided the type of ethos behind the goal of lots of practice.

There are also scientific studies explained throughout the book in order to validate his argument but also indicates where there were preconceptions involved either before or during the study. He dispels the notions that talent is inherent and the racial belief that black athletes have more developed physical prowess as part of their genetic constitutions.

Matthew Syed

As for the author’s ethos when writing this book, he became the number one greatest table tennis player in the world. He also mentions his encounters with other table-tennis players and wrote about the importance of their mentorship.

Writing Style

Syed vividly details his life experience in training in table tennis and his interaction with the famous table-tennis player Desmond Douglas. Even the scientific studies themselves have lots of description. Syed specifically gets into detail about the hand coordination and the arcs of the paddle involved in table-tennis.

He also uses a lot of terminology throughout the book.

Automaticity: when practice becomes so integrated in the conscience, every subtle action reflects that practice without thought.

Chunk: finding common patterns in subjects that are practiced.

Combinatorial Explosion: a pattern of cues developed from the innumerable hours of practice.

Performance Placebo: solid habit of constantly believing that you could win a game if you only believe. Syed notes the prevalence of sportspeople either meditating or praying before every game.

Purposeful Practice: meant to be rigorous in order to truly progress and not become monotonous or easy. Since myelin is the part of the brain that covers the nervous system, the studies Syed found showed that the number of myelin increases with practice.

Real World Application

The use of environment figures incredibly in this book, particularly when it applied to the author himself. It is not just the physical space but also the group of people you associate with that determines your practicing habits.

Time is also a key component of becoming an expert in any hobby or field. Syed speculates that the number of hours it takes to reach that world-enthralling stage is 10,000. When you really do the math, if four hours was dedicated every day to practice (including weekends and holidays), then it would take approximately 6.8 years to become an expert. In a deeper way, it is analogous to pursuing both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.

(Of course the usefulness of an accredited college degree is a whole article in itself)

The point being that time is a major component but also the dedication and–dare I say–obsession in becoming an expert. Of course, while it has to be consistent and progressive, another key in your goal is surrounding yourself with people who know what they are doing and genuinely want you to succeed. That does not mean you should surround yourself with yes-men, rather with professionals who are willing to allow you to progress in your goal.

When finding your mentors, remember that your progress will be influenced by the Pygmalion Effect, which is the way in which the performance of a person is affected by the opinion of the people with whom they surround themselves.

Always Keep Up With Multi-Ball Practice

Since Syed mentions Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers frequently, I would hope to continue learning more about the idea of practice. This is definitely the type of book to be shared everywhere, especially towards young people.

 

Syed, Matthew. “Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success.” Harper. 2010.

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