Bounce by Matthew Syed

Posted by Anantha | Posted in | Posted on Friday, April 13, 2012

I must say, this is one of the most impressive sports books I have read. Sometime back, in one of my blogposts - Sports and Genes, I had mentioned about my assumptions - mostly assimilated by generalizations, about the impact of genes on sports. Why do always Kenyans or Ethiopians win Long Distance running  events, why Asians are better in Badminton, Gymnastics and Table Tennis, why we do not see many black swimmers qualifying for major Swimming events? When I had written about it, they perfectly seemed like valid questions to me. After reading Bounce, I feel the questions were really vague. In this book, Mathew mentions about fallacies of these generalizations. When the research says, the gene pool of people in Eldoret, Kenya (the cradle of long distance runners) itself is so diverse, I realize how wrong it is to say 'Asians are good at Badminton' :)

Matthew Syed is a British journalist and was the No. 1 Table Tennis player in UK for almost a decade. In the book, ‘Bounce – How Champions are made’ Matthew Syed discusses about environmental influences, motivational sparks, the social strata of sports persons, child prodigies, superstition in sports, choking of sports persons at crunch moments, performance enhancing drugs and most importantly about ‘the myth of talent and the power of practice’. A hardcore believer of practice, mentions that it was possible for him to become No.1 TT player of UK only because he had put in thousands of hours of practice under supreme coaches with special and efficient techniques and it had absolutely nothing to do with his superior ‘genes for TT’ (if such thing exists), as both his parents had never ever wielded a TT racquet in their entire life, nor did he have any maternal or paternal relatives who were good at TT. 

Many of the first few sections of the book emphasize the concept of 10,000 hours of practice - a theory by Malcolm Gladwell. The author gives some contemporary examples from Tiger Woods to Williams Sisters to few skating champions who would not have reached the pinnacle of success if they had not practiced hard. With many case studies proving this and quoting from many scientific researches Matthew lays his argument open to the readers. With no substitute to hard work, the author breaks our assumptions about in born talent too. Also sneaks into the childhood of Mozart and disproves why Mozart is not a child prodigy - for that matter, according to the author, child prodigiousness is a myth. With a strict father who was musically inclined, Mozart had already practiced for thousands of hours of music before even reaching the age of 10-11. But to the world, he was a child prodigy. Matthew also cites the example of Hungarian Chess teacher Laszlo Polgar, who challenged the world to raise all the three of his daughters as the best chess players in the history. The youngest of the daughters being Judit Polgar, the most successful of the three and also who was in news for beating our own Vishwanathan Anand and Anatoli Karpov and the likes.

To accentuate, when author mentions thousands of hours of practice, he means effective practice and not just hours spent aimlessly on any skill. The book also cites from a research that why Brazilians were once so invincible in Football. The secret behind their success being their superior practice technique called Futsal. When a player like Ronaldinho himself says, any player who masters the art of tackling and passing with the smaller and heavier ball in Futsal can never ever fail in the game of Football, there certainly must be truth in this practicing technique. 

Superstition of sports persons is seriously debatable and at times equally amusing topic. It seems Serena Williams carries her shower slippers in her Tennis Kit for every match and most of the tennis players pitch the ball certain number of times before each service. Matthew jokes, sometimes it makes him wonder whether Wimbledon is a contest of Tennis or a contest of superstitions. It is really funny to think that the color of the shoes or whether the batsman steps into the ground with his right or left foot in, influences his performance on field that day. Mathew says, as long as their beliefs are harmless and it helps them to give their best, who are we to tell them not to do it. By the way, did you know even pigeons are superstitious, and superstitions could have descended to humans through evolution..?!

Apart from all these interesting topics, the obvious undertone of the book comes across very effectively, that practice makes us perfect. It is a must read for all those who give up mid-way of achieving, thinking that they do not have it in them to achieve. I would like to end with a quote from Malcolm Gladwell - “Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”

Comments (7)

I am afraid this Syed chap doesn't know anything about prodigiousness, at all. Child prodigies are very real - and they don't take 10,000 hours of practice to become special. They are special at birth - which is very clear to anyone who has ever parented one, or become personally acquainted with one, early on.

Oh...and Malcolm Gladwell did not have the idea of 10,000 hours practice makes a talent...that is someone else's idea. In fact, I am not sure that Malcolm Gladwell has ever had an idea of his own. His work is always a patchwork quilt of other people's thoughts and research.

Another book aimed at the classic 'nature v nurture' debate!

I have not read the book. However, i feel I have to mention this:
- practice does make one perfect! no matter what is the current level, one can always reach higher levels through practice.
- there are child prodigies for real! even without genes, we can see some people being extraordinary at somethings by birth! I have seen few :)


First of all, thanks for dropping in and commenting on my blogpost. Yes, I think child prodigiousness is hard to believe unless we have seen them grow from close. I referred to your blog and it is great to know that you were a child prodigy once and have fathered three such wonderful children!!, which is very very amazing.

About, Gladwell, I am not sure if he was the first to come out with 10,000 hours of rule. Whose ever theory it is, I think these many hours of practice is surely going to internalize the skills and make us good at it.

Yep right, perfect book which stirs nature vs nurture debate.
About child prodigies, ya could be.. I have not seen any :-/

sure man practice makes perfect but tell me if you make venkatesh prasad to practice for 10,000 hours or even more will he ever score 1,000 runs ? you cannot create replicas of people man. but yes if i practice for 10,000 hours i may be able to outrun you :P



I am sure, 10000 Hrs of practice can make Venkatesh Prasad score 1000 runs man. I bet he would not have spent 50 hours in net practice sessions ;)
The point is, if he had practiced 10000 hours of bowling, would he have equalled the skills of McGrath..?! That's a debatable topic :)

About outrunning me, ya you surely can, but I have a headstart of 1000Hours of practice already, you got to catch up with me ;)

you did not get my point sweets. my point is exactly that venki cant score 1000 runs even if he practiced batting for 10,1000 hours. however it cannot be predicted what he would achieve if he practiced bowling for 10,000 hours.

you have to accept man.. some bodies(and minds) are built to achieve certain things. Rafa can become world no 1. djokovic can become world no 1 but i doubt either of us can become world no 1 in tennis even if we practiced for 20,000 hours wholeheartedly.

if we go deeper probably we will start talking about luck, astrology etc.


@Deva aka Jagadish,

It's a perfect Nature vs Nurture debate we are getting into... According to me, success is a combination of hardwork + circumstances + coincidences. Matthew Syed also describes it on similar lines. Now, apply this to whether either of us could have been World No 1 in Tennis or not :)

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