Why are 137 of the Worlds 500 Best female golfers from South Korea?
How has one athletics club in Kingston, Jamaica succeeded in producing most of the worlds best sprinters?
Why have the worlds best middle-distance runners grown up in the same if the Ethiopian village?
There are many writers and journalists such as Daniel Coyle and David Epstein that have done a great job researching the correlation between talent and high-performance. When Belgian personal trainer Geert Lammertyn recommended me „The Gold Mine Effect“ during last months YPSI Semi Private Internship I did expect a similar view on the same topic. Yet, Rasmus Ankersen starts out with a great point.
Genetics and talent do not determine who becomes a World Champion.
Genetics and talent will definitely determine who will not become a World Champion.
That means if you are a 2,05m tall male that will not automatically make you play basketball in the NBA. The other way around though, if you are a 1,65m tall male you will definitely not play basketball in the NBA.
Everyone who is into sports knows certain correlations like the Jamaicans are made for sprinting and the Kenyans are made for long distance running. With the assumption that their genetics make them champions.
These correlations are fairly new though and based on simple reasoning wrong. At the 1999 Marathon World Championships the best East African runner came in on 9th place despite no shortage of long distance runners in the regio. Ten years later, every Top 5 runner at the same event was from Kenya and Ethiopia. Did the East African genes change in that time? Definitely not.
On the other way around in 1985, 102 British male runners ran under the elite time if 2 hours 20 minutes for the marathon. Only 5 British runners did the same in 2005. Did the British genes change in that time? Definitely not.
The same point can be made for example for the Swedish long distance runners who dominated in the 1940s. And then suddenly they win gold in the heptathlon how jump and in the triple jump and the 2004 Athens Olympics three short distance explosive events. Did the Swedish genes change in that time? Definitely not.
And the same is true for Jamaica who won an average of three medals at the Olympics before the MVP Athletics club was founded in Kingston Jamaica which lead to 13 medals alone in sprinting events. Did the genes change in that time? Definitely not.
A long time discussion in sports is: Nature vs. Nurture. The relationship of genetics and training on high performance. Few look at the fact that talent exists but exists everywhere. Developing talent is the essential component.
To quote the sprint coach Glen Mills, the man behind Usain Bolt’s Success:
„People tend to underrate the fact that those who have the potential to become a good sprinters end up actually being good sprinters in Jamaica. In other countries they might study technology or play another sport. If Usain Bolt had grown up in the United States he would probably not have become a sprinter he would have gone in an entirely different direction.“
Exactly the same applies for the runners in Kenya where long distance running is a national sport, part of daily life and one of the few ways to „make it“. For example the town of Bekoji has 30,000 inhabitants and only two cars. So it’s normal for kids to 20 km to school at 3000m above sea level everyday starting at the early age. And in total there is probably 1 million school boys in Kenya that run 20km to school on every school day. Thats a great development pool to select from. What would happen if we take 100.000 german kids and move them to the Alpes having them run 100km every week?
Which is one of the main points of the author: Gold Mines must be created, not discovered.
Another simple yet great example he makes is that many women in the world sing better then Madonna. Also plenty of women are better looking as well. Yet Madonna has managed to administer what she has at her disposal and to put it into action. This is what constitutes true talent and results in high-performance.
The book also analyzes many aspects of developing high performance such as:
- Why is it so important to start early
- Why practicing alone is more important than supervised practice
- Why volume creates opportunity
- Why one should select based on attitude not skill. Compared to the old saying of „Hire for skil. Fire for attitude“
- Why the 10.000 hour rule still applies to high performance
- Why having no choice creates a level of freedom to excel as a performer
- Why extreme self-confidence might be the most important „gene“ for high performance
- Why labelling talent is highly counterproductive as it facilitates an outside-in rather than an inside-out validation.
- Why great athletes rarely become great coaches
And many many more great points to understand, learn and apply.
Ankersen also references the all beloved concept of Growth Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck and also Angela Duckworth’s concept of „Grit“ – see my book review here. As an essential base for high performance and success in athletics. Which basically means that athletes who accomplish great success usually combine the passion for a single mission with a high level of dedication to achieve the ultimate goal, regardless of the obstacles and the length of time it might take.
I highly recommend this book to everyone who works as a coach with any type of client, not just athletes, as well as in any other job were talent development is crucial.
Picture: The book.