The Talent Code – Deep Practice, Ignition and Master Coaching

May 14, 2009, 1:45 p.m. (ET)

Sorry for the long break in postings - with two kids in teen sports (volleyball and lacrosse) both in state playoffs and finals almost upon us (and proms, who can forget THAT cultural right of passage...) and getting ready for the important USA Volleyball annual meetings, time to free range think has been crimped. I will be posting more now, and wanted to first start with yet another new read - Daniel Coyle's, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.

Like Outliers, you simply must put this book on your nightstand and READ it.  

Have you ordered it online yet? Hey, what is taking you? You will find it making you think in several areas of import to growing our sport and helping kids become Citius, Altius, Fortius.  The author went on journeys, to soccer fields in Brazil, a Dallas music school of excellence, and KIPP schools (Knowledge is Power Program - ( to see with his own eyes what Dr. K. Anders Ericsson brought to our awareness from his Florida State offices researching  effective practice. Coyle goes even a bit deeper, pun intended, by calling it "Deep Practice" due to the internal effects on our myelin that positively improve one's performance. He also points out the importance of passion - as previously seen in the value of "street volleyball" - for both "Ignition" and sustainment of the hours it takes to get great. Tying into implicit learning, Coyle says it this way -  "Where deep practice is a cool, conscious act, ignition is a hot, mysterious burst, an awakening." Finally, there is mentoring as we have seen done so well in the men's side of USA Volleyball, with Carl McGown, Doug Beal, Marv Dunphy, and others helping guide Hugh McCutcheon and now Alan Knipe. I just crossed paths in a gym at State Districts with Craig Buck (whose son Jason was playing against Cody) and was reminded how there, not just a master coach was helping develop talent, but how each every player in the program, starting with Karch and the whole 1984 gold medal team, through the competitive cauldron and teammate interactions, helped the talent blossom. Coyle calls it "master coaching" for the talented performers, with those skilled at bringing forth the talent within. As we teach the players to problem solve without us, they too become master coaches...

So what does this mean for each of us? I think first, it reinforces the importance of first helping kids develop a LOVE OF THE GAME. Simple but a cornerstone to our ways of training and competing. I just did a Positive Coaching Alliance piece for a new DVD being shot by the amazing Mark Millon. For those of you who do not know lacrosse, he is one of the long time superstars of the sport, and I helped him shoot a DVD that his sponsor is helping him distribute at low cost ($10) to all the youth lax players and coaches. I spoke about the PCA and Honoring the Game - which we use the term ROOTS, to help everyone remember to respect the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, and Self. My last line? "Never be a child's last coach..." for we are to do all we can, to help these young players love physical activity and playing/competing and being a great teammate. BTW, there is a new PCA topic (reprinted on the Kingston Soccer Club website) on how coaches should handle cutting players from a team at

I also think it means to give time to focus on those things that INSTILL IMPLICT LEARNING, including guided discovery and Socratic coaching as we talk about in IMPACT clinics. It means continuing to fan the flames of self learning by playing more doubles, and more "speed ball" and queen of  the court- while being there to teach and guide. A PLAYS (Pipeline Leadership for America's Youth Sports) working group meeting in Denver last week brought to my attention to another group working to redefine the role of youth sports Up 2 Executive Director Paul Caccano sent me a copy of  Ann Rosewater's great booklet - "Learning to Play and Playing to Learn" which you can get by signing up with the Team up for Youth Program. With Promise of Good Sports ( led by Festival Founder Dave Epperson, the National Alliance for Youth Sports ( and the National Coalition of Youth Sports ( there are many wonderful paths to helping become a better teacher of any sport - volleyball especially.

And finally, it means to remember to let your kids coach others, so they become better players. For the coaches reading this, it means to seek out those who might help you yourself be a better coach - starting with CAP and other coaching courses. It also means looking to have someone, perhaps a person even not involved with volleyball but an expert in another sport, come watch your practices and give you feedforward. Note that this means that just like you give the players immediate feedback as they perform their skills in games and drills, you would be getting this same kind of feedfoward.  You might be lucky to get it while you are on the court teaching, right in front of the players (for immediate and frequent feedback is best) - along with delayed feedback that comes from going out to dinner afterwards to talk, or sitting around a gym after practices openly discussing any and everything with the intent to improve.

So more reading, and more ways to grow the sport. Let me know if you have other ideas to share on this topic by posting below and sharing with all.  Thanks for your efforts in giving kids a chance to make volleyball one of their sports.


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On May 18, 2009 Koa Avery wrote

While surfing about 2 weeks ago I saw this book had very recently been published. I bought it on a Sunday and head read it 3 times in the next 6 days, simply because I'm OCD about books, and I would very highly recommend this book. The writing style isn't my favorite, but the information the book is based on is solid and will seriously accelerate the coaching and learning of pretty much any team on the planet.

On June 07, 2009 Dawn De Paula wrote

Well I loved the title to this book, I agree that greatness is grown, and one of the ways it is grown is of course the kids must have a love for what they are doing and enjoy it, but it is watered and taken care of at home with alot of family support, not only being there for them but, teaching them to eat, be disciplined to train, and making sure you are there for all of the ups and downs, I mean how hard can it be for a 16 yearold when all their friends are going to a party, and they say no because on the next day they have a game. We live in Brazil and volleyball traing is taken very seriously, we are talking about everyday, sometimes trainings double up youths with juniors, not to mention training on the beach also twice a weak, and 3 times a week physical preparation. But now she is collecting the fruits of her hard work, it is quite funny when you think sometimes everything was in Vain all of a sudden the light bulb turns on and a star is born...Then you finally feel everything is going up from now on!! just to say to any parents that might be readind it is important to be there for your kids!! and go to their games a trainings if possible, give them the reassurance they need.

On June 29, 2009 Pat Ryan wrote

Read "The Talent Code" and thought it was fantastic, great for any coach to read. It really mixes it up between practical insight that you can use and some pretty high level stuff to help you understand how the brain works and develops what is referred to as "muscle memory" Great book...

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