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The Sports Gene

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The Sports Gene

Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance


15 min read
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10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Are great athletes born or made? Both.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Can Malcolm Gladwell’s famed “10,000-hour rule” – which defines the length of time a person needs to master a skill – explain Donald Thomas? He’s the world champion Bahamian high jumper who triumphed despite his lack of experience, his indifference to training and his rough technique. As sports journalist David Epstein writes in this fascinating study, athletic success turns out to be a complex stew of genetic and cultural factors. That’s why Thomas, an unknown, could defeat an Olympic champion who devoted his life to perfecting his high jump technique. Epstein, an informed, engaging guide to sports science, argues convincingly that the 10,000-hour rule is a vague guideline, not a road map. He doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable discussions of race in sports; he addresses this touchy topic and others in a tactful, respectful way. A writer at Sports Illustrated, Epstein clearly conveys complex technical concepts, and he offers a view of performance and training, which managers in other fields may find illuminating. getAbstract recommends his study to supervisors, coaches and parents seeking insight into athletic success.


Struck Out By a Girl

Conventional wisdom says that great baseball hitters like American stars Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds are born with innate qualities that mere mortals lack. Both men hit 95-mile-per-hour [153 km] fastballs, demonstrating a singular skill only a few players possess. Perhaps their reflexes are faster or their vision is sharper or their hands are quicker. Pujols and Bonds were among the Major League hitters who faced US softball pitcher Jenny Finch, and could not hit a single pitch. Finch’s pitches travel 30 miles [48.3 km] per hour slower than the ones the hardest baseball pitchers throw, but softball pitchers stand closer to home plate. Hitters have about the same time to react to a 68-mile-per-hour [109 km] softball as to a 95-mile-per-hour [153 km] baseball.

A baseball travels the 60 feet [18.3 meters] from the pitcher’s hand to home plate in 400 milliseconds, an interval too short for the eye to see the ball, relay the information to the brain and enable the brain to instruct the muscles to swing. Major Leaguers don’t hit by keeping their eyes on the ball – that would be impossible – but by swinging where they think the ball will be. These players...

About the Author

David Epstein is an award-winning writer at Sports Illustrated. He ran on Columbia University’s track team.

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    J. O. 5 years ago
    Great read.
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    G. H. 7 years ago
    Never heard of 10,000 hour rule before. But it would make since. To break habits they say work on it for 30 days straight and it is supposed to get easier to accomplish. Good reading and infomation.
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    S. F. 7 years ago
    A sporting perspective on the Nature-Nurture debate that will get you thinking.