The Sports Gene

The Sports Gene by David Epstein provides an interesting counterbalance to the recent pendulum swing in sport to the nurture (i.e., practice) explanation for expertise. Popularizing (with the inherent changes and oversimplifications) Ericsson’s research on expertise, books such as The Talent Code, Talent is Overrated, Outliers, and Bounce have spread the idea of expertise being accessible to anyone via deliberate practice. While I am a huge fan of Ericsson’s research and use it both in my sport psychology consulting and my own life, assuming that expertise is a result of nurture alone seems to overlook many obvious inborn advantages (as an aside, Ericsson did acknowledge that the demands of particular sports lent to genetic advantages, for example, height in basketball).

Enter The Sports Gene, which delivers the latest research on genetic linkages to aspects of performance in a user friendly, engaging, and fascinating manner. One of the findings I was particularly intrigued by was that near elite athletes actually practiced more than elite athletes prior to age 15. However, by age 18 the elite athletes had accumulated more practice than the near elites. The explanation for this seemingly counter intuitive pattern was that elites sampled various sports in their childhood and early teen years before specializing in their later teens. In contrast, the near elite athletes specialized earlier, thus accumulating more hours in the sport, but did not go on to achieve the success of the elites (factors such as overuse injuries and burnout were large contributors).

This is an extremely important finding, as one of the consequences of the popularization of Ericsson’s research has been for parents, coaches, and sport administrators to encourage early specialization in kids, with the belief that the sooner the kids accrued 10,000 hours of practice the sooner they would achieve expertise. It is now apparent that this approach is, in fact, counter productive to becoming an elite athlete.

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Natural Inspiration II

Ever wonder why your best ideas come to you in the shower? Or while you are out walking the dog?

It is at least partially due to the connection with nature you experience during these times.

The water in your shower is enough of a connection to spark creativity.

The fresh air and exercise on your walk is enough to shift your perspective.

These little doses offer a glimpse of what connecting with nature has to offer.

Try going to a national park, isolated beach, or mountain summit and see what the full dosage has to offer you.

Natural Inspiration

Feeling stagnant? Stuck in a rut? Experiencing writer’s block? Waiting for the last minute?

Try getting out in nature. While you are there, focus on the feelings of peacefulness, content, bliss, and wonder that spontaneously arise in you.

And if these feelings don’t arise, get out in nature more.

If you do, chances are you’ll find yourself more relaxed, energized, and creative.

Evidence? I wrote this and the next three posts this morning – after hiking all day yesterday.

The trick is to immerse yourself in nature. If you go solely for the purpose of stimulating creativity and spend the entire time stuck in your head, you’ll probably be frustrated.

If you are able to go and relax and appreciate nature, chances are you’ll find yourself able to look at things from a new perspective, with new possibilities, when you return home and your mind naturally shifts back to the problems you are working on.