Parents and teachers ought to find the message of Daniel Coyle’s latest book very appealing. In “The Talent Code,” the veteran author argues that exceptional (and even world class) talent isn’t necessarily inborn, but can be developed through “deep practice,” commitment and effective coaching. This argument runs counter to conventional wisdom, which suggests that the best of the best at any particular endeavor have some innate advantage over the rest of us that no amount of practice and determination can make up for.
To illustrate his argument, Coyle travels to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—the soccer fields of São Paolo, Brazil, being one example. His theory is that Brazil produces an unusually high percentage of the world’s greatest soccer players in part because Brazilian youth grow up practicing futsal, which is reminiscent of soccer except it’s played on a court or dirt lot with a small, heavy ball. In futsal, crisp passing and footwork is at a premium, and since players touch the ball six times more often than they do in soccer, a youngster has many more opportunities to correct “small failures” and improve his skill level.
While Coyle spends a considerable number of pages explaining cutting-edge science—in particular, the import of myelin, a microscopic substance that is now believed to play “a key role in the way our brains function, particularly when it comes to acquiring skills”—it’s the practical advice he imparts that will be of most interest to casual readers. Among other things, Coyle focuses on how to practice effectively, how to recognize and then fuel a child’s motivation, and how the world’s elite trainers and coaches maximize the ability of their students.
Of course, executing Coyle’s advice isn’t as easy as he sometimes makes it sound. At the same time, his recommendations are decidedly realistic, which should be comforting for parents and teachers charged with developing and encouraging seemingly average children. Neurology aside, the basic idea is to encourage kids to make—and then immediately correct—their little mistakes. Add a dose of good coaching and the unbridled passion of youth and one never knows how far a youngster might go.