There’s a German proverb that says, “You will become clever through your mistakes.” Most people don’t think of this saying when it comes to the most talented people in their fields, however.

In the golf world, athletes such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are thought to be gifted with a golf club like Michelangelo was with a paintbrush. When we watch golfers like Tiger and Phil play and practice, it looks as though they were born with the skills to be the best golfers in the world, and that their development must have been very easy. But according to Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, nothing comes easy for anyone. Not for Tiger, Phil or even Michelangelo.

talentcode

Coyle contends that talent is acquired. It is not an innate quality or gift that is given to some chosen few, nor is it something we are born with. Talent is the result of a definite process through which the learner acquires a brain composition (a substance called myelin) that separates them from the average learner.

As a golf professional and surely not a neuroscientist, I would do Coyle’s work a disservice to elaborate. But in my role as a golf instructor, I found the book extremely beneficial to both me and my students. This article summarizes some of Coyle’s findings and offers a guide for those interested in ways to improve your game.

The first thing we learn, and probably the most eye-opening concept in the book, is this:

Learning comes from deep practice, and deep practice arises from trial and error.

There simply is no learning or talent development without trial and error. The author cites numerous examples of learners going patiently through this process; budding musicians playing a piece of music time after time until it resonates with their musical sensibilities, young Brazilian soccer players learning to move the soccer ball with their feet despite falling over it time after time, dart players, scrabble players, and so on. Regardless of the skill, the common denominator is how it is acquired.

“Struggle IS NOT an option,” Coyle says. “It is a biological requirement.

“Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways — operating at the edges of your ability where you make mistakes — makes you smarter. Or to put it in a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them-as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.

“The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does.”

The residual effect of this deep practice is that it actually alters brain composition. Coyle tells us that ALL great artists and accomplished professionals have an abundance of a substance called myelin in their neural structures. According to Coyle, we acquire myelin through hours and hours of deep practice, and as the practice deepens, the myelin continues to build and insulate nerve synapses (the structures that permit a neuron to send a signal to another cell, neural or not). This process is called myelination, and the effect of a profusion of myelin, is that the transfer of signals becomes much faster and more direct. And the outcome is, simply put, genius.

Coyle researched areas of the world he calls “myelin hotbeds” and found this in case after case. As I mentioned, I do want to do a disservice to this very informative work, but I do suggest a thorough reading of it.

“Skill is myelin insulation that wraps around neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals,” Coyle says. “The story of skill and talent is the story of myelin.”

deep-practice

So when we have deep practice, we’re building myelin. Now comes the firing of those neural cells. Just how much practice do we need? According to Coyle’s findings, 10,000 hours is a strong suggestion. If we do the math on 10,000 hours we get something like this: 50 hours a week, every week, for four years! For those of you who think you hit a lot of balls, think about just how many balls you could hit in 50 hours a week?

So how does the theory of myelin growth and 10,000 hours explain phenoms like Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko, who have competed on the LPGA Tour since their early-to-mid-teens? It’s clear from interviews with the two that they had a golf club in their hands shortly after they were out of their cribs, so they likely reached the 1o,000 hour mark before they even entered their teenage years. In any case, the trial and error repetition over and over and over again is clearly an integral part of talent development through myelination.

How does all this affect the average golfer? Well, let’s discount the 10,000 hours; that simply is not realistic for most people. But I think there is a lot to learn about the trial-and-error method of practice. When Coyle talks about deep practice, he is describing the type of work I have seen most effective in learning the game.

For example, it is beneficial for any golfer to watch new players at a driving range. See how they miss the ball, look puzzled, smash the club into the ground, look puzzled again and then out of nowhere smash one. One way or another, they solved the puzzle using the trial-and-error method simply because nothing else was available to them.

A golf lesson is, or should be nothing more than guided practice, providing opportunities for the student to problem solve and learn from their errors. If, as a student, you can embrace your errors and learn from them, you are on your way to deep practice and long-term improvement. It is only through fascination, a total awe for the subject matter, that one can practice deeply. If hitting better golf shots is your sole motivation and you put in the right kind of practice, you can improve. If your motivation is anything other than fascination, say perhaps, “to be better at golf for my job” or “to have a hobby with spouse or friends,” you may find more limited success. But the really great thing about the game of golf is that it can be enjoyed on so many levels.

I strongly recommend The Talent Code, both for it’s lively discussion of how genius develops as well as help with your own game. I’m always in search of new ways to teach and learn and this book enlightened me on both ends.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional.

Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions:

-- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA
-- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal
-- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine
-- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest
-- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf
-- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members)
-- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf
-- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA
-- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors

Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf
Academy
at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

73 COMMENTS

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    • I don’t buy it. I knew several future tour players when they were younger–in high school, I watched them develop from close up and I can say they uniformly had superior natural hand eye coordination and came upon the game far more easily than the average good player they rose above. Even someone like Hogan was more than happy to let the myth persist that he self created himself through practice and thought. In fact, Hogan was exceptionally gifted with his hands early in his career. He was a far more naturally gifted player than commonly thought. This kind of thing is what people want to hear, inspirational, etc. It sells and gives people hope, but it is not based in reality.

      • When Hogan first turned professional, he was quite bad. Missing cuts, almost gave it up. Valerie’s persistence was the thing that kept him on tour. He found the answer in the dirt hour by painstaking hour.

  1. Dennis, thanks for this timely article. Seems like it has generated some good discussion. I totally buy into the concepts discussed in The Talent Code.

    If you are not aware of it, there is a very interesting blog that is being published every day related to Golf Mastery. It is the Eye on the Tour blog, done by Bill Rand. Well worth reading every day.

  2. I’m going to share some quotes from a coach I had when I played squash on the national team in Canada. My coach who was a former world champion and also had a brother who played Davis Cup Tennis for Australia used to say “to be good, you have to be different” He also used to say that champions “are always in a hurry because they have tunnel vision” . In my own personal experience with NHL hockey players, when they were young they were dominant and they made the game look easy.and because they won so much, they played a ton of games. See a trend.
    Getting to a Tiger Woods level, which is generational (once every 25 years), it’s clear he altered the perception of golf. And for about 15 years, he had no peers except a Nicklaus or Hogan or a Jones. You can pick out most sports, identify the generational stars and see that because they were that dominant and won, they played more than anyone else.
    That’s how you get to 10,000 hours. We used to say that it took 10 years to become a pro.

  3. To credit this author with the 10,000 hour theorem is wildly off the mark – worse still if he claims in his book that his ‘research’ led to this number.

    Malcolm Gladwell (in his book, “Outliers”) actually first came up with it. Matthews Syed (“Bounce”) followed it through and Dan Coyle is seemingly next up.

    Syed, it must be said, constantly referenced Gladwell’s theory and publication throughout his own text.

    It should also be noted that this is a typical figure for an average learner to go from total Novice to ‘World Class’ status – clearly if you play other sports involving hand to eye coordination you will not need the full 10,000 hours and just as important, the 10,000 hours must be put to good use.

    In summary then; this is not an original idea, the 10,000 hour principle has been in circulation for ages and the premise of having to work incredibly hard to achieve your goals in golf have been advanced for decades.

    Therefore I find it hard to understand the importance of the article given this topic has been covered numerous times over the years.

    “The Secret Is In The Dirt” – anybody? B. Hogan, referring to thousands of hours of practicing to achieve proficiency.

    • How can anyone interpret 10,000 hours literally? This author and others are making a clear simple point: It takes a LOT of practice to be great. Ask Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh, Ben Hogan et al.

    • I would argue that Gladwell really didn’t come up with the 10,000 hour theorem. In his book he credits K. Anders Ericsson and other researchers, scientists, and doctors who did. He does however discuss it in detail as it relates to becoming the best in certain fields.

  4. I hate to bust the bubble but this is not true. Bo Jackson never practiced. His basaeball coach said all they did was get him in his uniform and get him to the field on time. After baseball he played football as a “hobby”. He didn’t go to training camp, run sprints or practice. He put on his uniform, stretched a little and went out on the field and was the best. Conversely no one on the planet works harder than Tim Tebow. He works and works and practices and works and he is no better. He cannot throw the ball to the corners and edges with any accuracy and he will never play QB in the NFL. Tim is a great guy and to this day he works harder at being a QB than most guys in the NFL but he doesn’t have the talent and it’s not god’s will for him.The truth is that those who can’t do teach, and hard work is for people who don’t have talent.

    • Does Bo Jackson’s ability prove the author wrong? He did work out 2-3 hours a day. As I said, we have to separate the physical from the mental. a guy 6’8” 250 lbs is a product of genetics, but he has to train those muscles to become proficient at a physical skill. Thx

      • The are definitely cases where talent shows and definitely short-cuts the road to greatness. And there is a difference between talent and Ability. Physical attributes cannot help but play into this. in golf, certain peoples hands and fingers are able to grip the club differently than others. Look at Hogan’s book where he shows how the left hand holds the club. The way his thumb bends at the 1st knuckle is something that most people can’t do.
        Two or three “wunderkind” pros come to mind where innate talent made their greatness possible in very short time. Greg Norman, purportedly never played golf until he was 17 or 18 years of age.
        He was a scratch golfer in a year and played in the Masters in his early twenties. Larry Nelson and Tom Weiskopf went from nothing to terrific in less than three years. Legendary gambler and hustler, Titanic Thompson, supposedly developed at the same speed.
        Undoubtedly, practice is required. But not all talent is learned. Some is in our DNA, gene pool, however you want to put it. The ability to mimic someone else’s moves..some people can’t do it. Regardless, I agree that a certain amount of digging it out of the dirt is critical to success. Some people just don’t require as much “shovel time”

  5. My son and I go to see Geoff Jones at Texarkana every year. One of the first things he required us to do is read the Talent Code. You can go to the Instruction forum on this website and see that his thread is the longest on there. There is no doubt that the worst thing he says, ” hey that kid has a lot of talent”, because then he probably will not work very hard. A hard working and practicing golfer will do much better than anyone who has talent. Tiger has a lot of talent, but this came from countless hours of work.
    If you read this book there so many truths in this book. For one, you can work and practice hard but, if you are doing it fundamentally wrong, you will not improve. You are doomed before you even start. Also, when you are practicing, practice slow, because if you can’t do something slow. You sure can’t do it fast. Just ask any musician that.
    Great story.

    • I agree, Andy. There’s a ton of great stuff about learning – a point I tried to make earlier was that the book should be called The Learning Code. For instance, without giving anything away for free, Coyle describes a way that all top talent practices — from prodigies to superstars — that makes practice work properly. Just integrating this one method into my work on my game finally allowed me to crack the single digit handicap wall that I’d been up against for a long, long time. Like I said, great book, bad title.

    • Hi Andy,

      Any contact information on Geoff Jones? He seems to have disappeared from the web. I’ve read and watched all his material and want to visit him for the initial start. Being in Baton Rouge, I’m only 5 hours away.

      Thanks,
      Mike

  6. This looks like an interesting read and yes you can develop talent but I believe knowledge is more valuable than doing, especially at this scale. It’s more valuable to be taught a technique, understand it and be able to break it down before you can effectively practice it and ultimately deliver it. As a junior golfer I had no talent around eye hand coordination, but got my handicap to 4. It was a natural progression through spending so much time practicing and playing over six years. I had massive holes in my game through developing bad habits and although I didn’t have lessons, I knew the issue was my lack of knowledge on the technical components of the swing. 20+ years later my return to golf has been supported by getting fitted (although I insisted on a set of blades), kicked off with a few lessons and I started to again live on the course. It wasn’t working so I started my golf education and spending time researching, reading, exercising with a focus on golf flexibility and strength and most importantly using gadgets like golfsense, Ping putter app and filming my swing. Got my handicap to 15 within 10 months and more importantly I’m building some amazing foundations in my swing that will help me get to 4 or better in the future. We live in a fantastic age with so many resources available and the clubs these days are amazing. Acquire the knowledge and after 1,000 hours of practice, you will be building myelin (whatever that is).

  7. If someone is gifted with a good memory as one year old, does that mean its a talent or trained? If a kid plays with a hockey stick when he is two and when he is 5 years old he goes to school, will he be talented or trained? I would say that I don’t know for both. I have a brother who is good at everything mental. He learned the alphabet at a year and a half and said it backwards the next day, now a mechanical engineer graduating at the top of his class. And I am the brother who couldn’t compete at that, so I did sports. So I am viewed as talented at sports and he is viewed at talented at problem solving. Does either of us have talent? Or training?

  8. It makes no difference how much you practice. You can practice perfectly and if you don’t have the talent you can only be so good. Then comes the head part when you reach a certain level in the game. It is the hardest obstacle by far. I know for a fact the best I can be at golf mentally and physically and realizing this is the first hurdle to jump. Unrealistic expectations lead to failure physically and mentally. There are wealthy men and women taking lessons every week from Class A pros who cannot play worth a damn and never will. They have no talent. They will reach a level but never get above that level. Just because you shot par one time does not make you a scratch golfer. If you can shoot par 10 out of 20 rounds the USGA says you might be a scratch golfer but “what course is it on.” I have found the ratings to be abject failures to say the least and everything is based on opinions. Experts change everything they know every 2 decades anyway. Drink red wine, now red wine is not worth a damn, fat kills you, now it is helpful. Strong grips ruin golf swings, now strong grips are the way to go. Manufacturers promise more distance, accuracy but we all know it is not the arrow but the person shooting the arrow. If golfer are not anything else they are gullible, me included.

    • actually “scratch” in golf means shoot the course rating 10 out of 20. Things change pretty much at the rate of other fields, that is to say we learn things. Unfortunately some are still teaching concepts that defy modern know science in golf instruction. We have Flightscope, Trackman etc, so no guesswork should be long gone from diagnosing swing problems. Thx

  9. Talent is something you are born with and then there is the talent between the ears that no one can figure out. Two people of my generation had both…Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Phil, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros to name a few are one step below those guys, tons of talent but did not master the between the ears part. If golf was so easy why out of billions do we have basically 50 guys who are the outright best of everyone and another 50 who are just as gifted striking the ball but don’t have “it” between the ears quite as much. The book is a rehashing of what any true golfer already knows. The best golfer who ever lived probably never took up the game.

  10. I think there is a theme running through the thread here. In the book I did not get the idea that the author is saying 10,000 hours, deep practice and myelin accumulation AUTOMATICALLY creates world class talent. The point he makes is that in the studies he has done, those profiled have gone through the process he describes. Furthermore, there has to be SOME distinction between the physical and the mental disciplines. Playing the piano needs somehow to be dissociated from running the 100 meter dash I would think. And I think when we see juniors who seem to have a natural inclination for certain disciplines, prodigies if you will, these may be the very ones we could follow Coyle’s path to true greatness. The operative word being true. While a 5 handicap may be a fair golfer by national standards, he/she is light years from great, thx for all the comments, a very intersting discussion.

    • I’ve read this book and it’s a good starting point on this subject. David Epstein’s ‘The Sports Gene’ gives a more complete “picture” of defining what actual talent “is” and how it is developed. He dispells many myths regarding this subject matter in his book. Really a great read.

  11. While I appreciate the spirit of this article, I was hoping for a description of the peculiar set of physical, mental, and neurological characteristics that every good (5 handicap or better) possesses. There is something innate that allows one child to swing a club well at first touch, while another will play golf for a lifetime without ever making a great swing. Why? Certainly, the attributes of a golfer are less obvious that other sports. Michael Phelps is a great example. If he had applied himself to meaningful practice, but had been 5’4″ with small feet and short arms, none of us would have heard of him. Without his long arms, oversized webbed (yes webbed) feet, none of us would have heard of the best swimmer in Northern Maryland. The combination of outstanding predisposition to an activity, combined with unrelenting hard work and opportunity is what creates excellence.

  12. Takes talent to do about anything much better than anyone else and golf is no exception to that. The approach this book describes can maybe maximize one’s potential but doesn’t mean you will be a PGA Tour caliber player by any means. It’s funny how most golfers would say that they wouldn’t be able to play professional baseball but doing essentially the same thing, hitting a ball with a stick, with golf they believe they can be a professional if they just practice enough. Even your current job takes talent. Those who are the best have the talent for it, those who aren’t but do try don’t. All the training in the world may not make those people better at it either. This is a fact of life.

  13. Talent cannot be learned. If it can, then everyone on the planet would be a professional golfer with the right teaching. Not even all professionals get good enough with proper coaching to be earning a living playing golf. I would say, at best, that people can reach their maximum potential with proper coaching and their maximum potential will vary.

    Some people have talent to play the piano for instance. It is a mechanical thing if you think about it. You are practicing to learn to use your fingers a certain way. But what separates someone average from someone great is talent plain and simple. Some people maybe have the neuron connections in the brain that others don’t that give them the talent to perform a task much better than someone else could. This does indeed apply to golf. The notion that anyone can learn to be a top tier golfer is a huge fallacy.

  14. I have three children. 2 boys and 1 girl. My oldest is 14 and he has a gift for golf. At 14 he has little interest in the game but can flat out play. We’ve played twice this year so far. With no practice He’s beaten me once for 9 holes and pushed me to a playoff the second time. I’m a 7 handicap. He just has pure natural talent. He can go out without touching a club in months and make pars. Nobody had to teach him how to hold a club or how to hit the ball. It really is incredible to watch. If he had the desire to go out and practice he would quickly become an amazing golfer. I hope someday he takes an interest.
    My other two children can not hit a ball off of a tee in 3 tries. The are the exact opposite. Talent really does exist.

  15. Practice should be of quality not quantity. Anyway practice in itself is not enough. Bobby Jones was not that big on practice. I think a better way to go about it is to watch and copy a golfer about your own size and gender. Imagine yourself in his shoes and in the mirror check yourself against your model. If fascination sets in whether your good or bad, then get on a course at 5 in the morning and play three balls for your amusement. Chances are the good shots will stick and your mind will let you progress. Play is the best practice.

  16. I had a conversation with the author a few years ago when the book came out, and the bottom line is that he understood the main point (and objection) I was making to him about the book — which is that it should be called “The Learning Code,” not “The Talent Code.” The book in its entirety is an argument for learning, not talent, and titling it “The Talent Code” was like Sontag titling her book “Illness As Metaphor” when the argument the book makes is that illness cannot and should not be thought of as metaphor.

    There is much to be valued in what the author says about learning, but to characterize it as “anyone can become Tiger Woods (or Mozart or DaVinci…) if they put in the time and effort” is ludicrous.

    To say that pro’s and superstars all understand the value of hard work and have put in something like 10,000 hours to get to the top is true. But to say they didn’t begin with a talent that is different from the average Joe is, well, ludicrous.

    Something like “touch” or “hand to eye coordination” differs vastly from individual to individual, and it will always be thus. The gods DO have favorites, and no amount of “learning” can overcome that reality. To think otherwise is a term as old as civilization: hubris. Life isn’t fair in part because talent isn’t democratic. With the same amount of hard work, some will excel. Period. End of story.

    • RLL,

      What was his response to your suggestion of a title change? I think you make a good point and possibly one quite misunderstood about the book. I do not get the impression Coyle is saying that 10,000 hours, deep practice, and myelin accumulation invariably creates talent; more like all the talented people have followed this course. There is an essential difference. We also need to separate the physical from the mental/creative. It seems limiting to group 6’8′ 240 lb athletes with much smaller, weaker physiques. But Lebron James’ “talent” may not have been developed without the requisite process the author describes.

  17. My thoughts on this subject …

    When I first heard about the 10,000 hour concept a few years ago I was pissed because it logically stood in the way of my goals. However, in hindsight it has likely helped push me forward as I hate being told I cannot do something. That was then, today I understand the concept and have seen lots of evidence to support it. Yes, there are those born with natural talent which can give them a head start.

    Consider the following:

    * They must want to do something that takes advantage of those skills … I imagine that is often not the case.
    * Even if they happen to choose something that takes advantage of the skills, they will eventually fail at some level – failure is the great equalizer
    * Once they fail it becomes work, it is no longer just effortless fun
    * Their future ability is now determined by their mindset and their desire to work past each and every failure until they reach the level they desire

    For me, it is not enough to just rely on natural talent, and putting 10,000 hours into something is no guarantee of success.

    “You must put 10,000 hours of failures into your goal, enjoying moments of success between your failures” – such is my current mindset and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    It is only through failures that we learn how to achieve what we want. Whenever we try to do something past our current abilities we risk failure, sometimes small, sometimes large, and yes sometimes we don’t fail in reaching the next step (not often, but sometimes).

    I believe if you are not failing in your pursuit of your goal then you are simply not pushing yourself to your maximum level. You’re playing it safe.

    Most people play it safe, they like to feel success, but the greats among us often push themselves into failure – that’s why they got so high. As Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    I have the following quote in my office by Michelangelo I believe, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – translated, of course.

    My goal, become a scratch golfer after a 30 year hiatus (I’m 48 now) – my mountain, retire on a professional tour. I don’t care what people think, because it doesn’t matter – if I succeed, holy crap! If I don’t, I will have pushed myself to the end of the mountain, have no regrets and will have applied the secret to success – hard work and tenacity – and be able to play some pretty wicked golf. My genetics allow me to grasp things faster than most and my reflexes can give me an edge when I’m pushing myself, but only a bit.

    I’m BenHoganSlam1953 … why did I choose that name for my GolfWRX ID, because for me what he did after the accident is my source of inspiration that it is never too late and that quitting is not an option. For me, his slam exemplifies what I wrote above.

    • I agree with your comment and it reminded me of an experience when I was studying TaeKwanDo. My instructor was working with me and I was struggling with a particular kick. He is a Korean 8th degree master and simply said “Dr Ron, you be perfect when you do 10,000!!”. Interestingly he took golf lessons from me at the time and we often found ourselves saying nearly the same instruction and motivation for to completely different athletic endeavors.

    • Dennis, to this day that really amazes me, how the NFL teams could be so wrong about Tom Brady. They weren’t to right about Joe Montana either, I believe he went number 7 in the 3rd round from Notre Dame and of course, Portland taking Bowie instead of Jordan.

  18. Agree for the most part, but genetics must play a role in this. Example, at the gym I get lots of complements on my physique, but truth is Im blessed with good genetics. Another case in hand, I introduced my son to golf when he was 10 or so. He complained so much that he wanted to swing the club and guess what he first swing was as if he played for years. At 22 he plays once in a while maybe 2-3 rounds max per year BUT when he plays he usually around 90ish. His former golf instructor called in dutch bal gevoel, meaning having a feeling for the ball. Remember Greg Norman was scratch in one year.

  19. This from the author’s blog:Do you have an eye for identifying talent?

    Can you watch people perform, talk to them, and then choose the person who’s destined to succeed in the long run?

    Most of us instinctively answer “yes,” because it feels like we do.

    In fact, science shows us that we’re mostly flattering ourselves. Because the truth is, long-term success is extraordinarily difficult to predict. Interviews are notoriously unreliable. Sports drafts, in particular, are expensive casinos.

    The problem is that a person’s progress ultimately depends on factors that are extraordinarily difficult to measure — stuff like character, emotions, discipline, motivation. How do they respond to failure? What’s their vision for themselves? Can they persevere in the toughest situations?

    We call this “the soft stuff” but in fact it’s not soft at all — it’s the hardest, most vital stuff there is.

    The real question is, how do you measure it?

    I came across a great answer developed by San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback before becoming a successful coach, has developed a simple way to measure the soft stuff of his quarterback and receiver prospects.

    He plays catch with them.

    That’s right — he plays catch, throwing a football back and forth. He does this at pro days, when prospective draftees try out for an audience of coaches and scouts. Every other NFL coach treats the event as a spectator sport, standing on the sidelines with clipboards and video cameras. Harbaugh, on the other hand, uses it as an opportunity to engage.

    Here’s the trick: with Harbaugh, it’s not an ordinary game of catch. Because after a few warmups, Harbaugh starts throwing harder, with more and more intensity. He makes the player run out for passes, making tough throws. He challenges the player, sees if they instinctively rise to the occasion. Some players back down, get uncomfortable. Others embrace it. From the Wall Street Journal:

    Harbaugh first took a liking to [Colin] Kaepernick, who played in college at Nevada, when they played a supercharged game of catch at his pro day in Reno. Harbaugh threw hard; Kaepernick threw harder. Kaepernick, Harbaugh came to understand, had the drive he was looking for. Although he wasn’t considered a top prospect—San Francisco took him in the second round in 2011—Kaepernick has started in two straight NFC Championship games and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.

    I love Harbaugh’s litmus test because it measures two things at once: interpersonal chemistry and competitiveness. It operates at the gut level, where the most important factors reside.

    In short, this is not talent ID — it’s temperament ID.

    It reminds me of a master teacher I researched at the Bolshoi Ballet, who tested new students by teaching them a difficult and strange new move that none of them had ever done before. The teacher wasn’t interested in how well they performed so much as whether they embraced the process. Did they rise to the challenge? Did they struggle well? Like Harbaugh’s test, it was a gut-level litmus test of temperament and character.

    The next question: are there ways to apply this idea to other disciplines? What’s the business version of Harbaugh method? What’s the music version?

    Do you know of any similar temperament-ID tests that might be worth sharing?

  20. Check out ‘The Dan Plan’ website. This is a guy who has quit his job and is devoting 10,000 hrs of his life to see whether he can reach the PGA Tour.
    He started as an absolute novice and spent the first 6 months on the putting green. He didn’t hit a drive until after 12 months!
    At present, he is at 5,000 hrs and is now a 3.3 hcp.
    Regarding the book, Dan Coyle clearly depicts a trigger in each of the ‘genius’ lives such as Mozart( father was a classical musician and Mozart was listening to 10 hrs of music in his house daily from birth!) and Bobby Fischer the chess Grandmaster. It is debatable as to whether a person is born a genius.
    Having said that, as a medical doctor, I can say for certain that people are born with an individual DNA code. People inherit certain genes that may be beneficial to certain sporting, musical or artistic vocations. Read ‘The Sporting Gene’ by David Epstein. A great book on this very subject. You’ll learn that around 90% of all elite Kenyan runners can be traced back to one tribe.

    • Genetics plays an even larger role than I think anyone perceives. My grandmother and all her sisters, except one lived to be over 90, her mother lived until 101. My dad had a mustache, I had one, we both had a peculiar habit of taking our right index finger and sort of combing the mustache with it. I didn’t notice this until I was in my 30’s and it was kind of weird. My mother’s dad and I have a skull protrusion over the occipital area in the exact same place. No one else, not even my uncle has it. There are things I think even genetics can’t explain although we do know many male criminals are XYY and how many gays have Klinefelter’s.

  21. Great article thanks Dennis. I think the myelin theory is 100% correct. Whatever your talent, the top rung will always be inaccessible without those 10,000 hours (sometimes described as having a bit of ‘mongrel’). Good excuse as any I can think of, to go play golf.

      • Yes, MS Biomedical Science. Myelin insulates the axon of the neurons, not the synapses. Additionally, myelinated neurons are predominantly found in the peripheral nervous system (everything except the brain and spinal cord) because these nerve cells are much longer, which means the signals need to travel longer distances, which means they require more insulation.

        But the main points of the book (repeated actions build more myelin, or that extra myelination is somehow associated with muscle memory or skill-building) are unproven, as far as I know. If you could point me to the scientific papers which Coyle cites in his book I’d be happy to take a look at it, as I am interested in this as well.

  22. I disagree. Of course there is talent. Some people have “it”. Not everyone can play professional golf, baseball, or basketball no matter how deeply they practice.

    Creating new neural pathways through focusing and hard work is nothing new.

    To suggest that a talent or gift is not innate is disingenuous at best. Mozart? da Vinci? Yes, any kind of focused practice can make us better golfers, but unless you have “it” (the talent/gift), all the “deep” practice in the world will not take you to the PGA Tour or NBA.

    Face it, there ARE a chosen few. That doesn’t mean we can’t become better golfers, but the author is planting false hope if he convinces his readers that some abilities/gifts/talents are not innate.

    • Sean. I am assuming you read the book? We as laymen are clearly entitled to our opinion, but it does scientific research a disservice to dismiss it out of hand. Thats why i made it clear that as a golf pro i would not demean the book or the author’s efforts through detailed explanation; I merely suggest that it is worth a read. Thx/

      • Dennis, I wasn’t demeaning the book, I was simply disagreeing with what the author’s premise.

        For example, a Michigan State University study last year suggests that “natural talent and other factors are more likely play a role in establishing whether someone can master a complicated activity.”

        Professor Zach Hambrick, the author of the study, went on to say that, “Practice is indeed important to reach an elite level of performance, but this paper makes an overwhelming case that it isn’t enough.”

        So you see, I wasn’t doing scientific research a disservice. :-)

    • I See what you’re saying Sean and I agree it does seem to imply that greatness comes from countless hours of practice not an innate ability. I believe it’s the combination of both. I guarantee you there are a rare few people who through relentless practice of say the 10,000 hour rule will ever come close to running as fast as Usain Bolt, jumping as high as Michael Jordan, or throwing a baseball as fast as Nolan Ryan etc. These people are gifted period!

      • Larry Bird could not run as fast as Bolt or jump nearly as high as Michael. He played pretty well. I think the author’s point has more to do with how to develop what one has to it’s fullest extent, and if they do, they CAN become world class.

    • Completely disagree with this especially about the golf part. I love golf precisely for the opposite of what you said. NOBODY imo is born with any special golfing talent and the best golfers are the ones who are willing to do what the others dont want to. I strongly believe that anybody can play professional golf but the “it” factor is opportunity and DRIVE, not “talent”. I believe you must posess a certain kind of single-mindedness to reach a goal, wheather its making it to the PGA tour or getting the job youve always wanted, and you need to have the resourses to make that happen. Drive, opportunity, and resources. Those are what you need and with the drive you will create thos oppertunities and find any resourse to get where you need to be. Some people are put in a better position to be succesful by being born with the oppertunity and resourses to flourish, but without the drive they will eventually fade out, hence, child prodegies that after a few years burn out and you dont hear from them again. Its not that they didnt posess the talent its that the drive to suceed wasnt there. They probably listened to something like what you wrote, which is false imo. Drive, opportunity, and resources. Not “Talent”. I respect your opinion but just wanted to give mine as well.

      • Wow, you just demeaned every professional golfer in one sentence. To be a professional, you not only have to be able to hit every shot imaginable but a whole bunch of shots that you cannot even think of. And be able to control their direct and distance. (See Bull Haas in the Tour championship a couple years ago.) To be a professional, it takes the right temperament and golf intelligence to control your emotions and execute when your paycheck is on the line. Not everyone has this ability.

  23. Trial and error is how I do my job when I need to solve problems – giving up is not an option when the client is paying and relying on myself and my team. My project this year is to apply my work ethic to my golf.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the more consistently one practices to solve a type of problem the quicker and easier the solutions come to them in that area. This has also been the case for me in my golf practice over the last four months. Each practice session of a bucket of balls often moves me forward each time, sometimes I stumble, but I quickly recover and leap ahead within a few sessions because I realize anytime I try something new I will fail. I look forward to each failure because it means with a little extra effort success is just around the corner.

    • Great points here Philip, most golfers would be served better with this attitude.

      I totally agree with the article, that we can’t become completely proficient without putting the time in. No professional golfer ever claimed they got where they are without hard work.

      One point I’d like to make though, is the ‘IT’ that people often refer to. Personally I cringe when I hear this. There is nothing mystical about these great golfers. Some people are more gifted athletically, or seem too have greater spatial intelligence (to visualize putts and shots), or strategic intelligence for course management, but there is no scientific basis saying these can’t be improved.
      The bottom line is, the constant with ALL great talent is hard work. To say you’ll never be great at something cause you don’t have ‘IT’ is a cop out. It’s an excuse for defeat.
      Hard work and 10,000 hours will make you good at whatever you’re doing. Combine that with smart work or a good instructor to guide you, and great is there for the taking.

  24. We’ll I think we need to be careful we are not “deep practicing” the wrong things. That will do nothing more Than ingrain problems. I do like the concept though.

  25. People always ask me that my swing is so nice and effortless. I practiced and hit a million balls through trial and error I learned to use my body, turning hips and legs to provide strength through impact. This in turn led to me to swing easier, and more controlled than before and hitting it twice as far. If you love golf and are highly fascinated on learning from others like Tiger you can see how he uses his core and legs, not his arms. Learn from the pros. Watch the PGA tour on tv.

    • i could really absorb some putting skills right now. Just shot 45 on 9 holes at a 3300 yard course. Hit 7 greens in reg. 1 disaster hole (stupid trees). Hit 7 approach shots within 10 feet. pulled my wedge out for the two missed greens and chipped it to within 10′. Putting was a disaster. couldn’t sink it outside 4′. 3 putt so often my buddies were falling over laughing.

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