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The Talent Code – Greatness isn’t born, it’s grown

The Spartak Tennis Club is a small tennis club in Moscow with one (!) indoor court. Nevertheless, it produced more top 20 ranked women between 2005 and 2007 than the whole USA. It is an example of a “talent hotbed”.

I’ve recently read a book by Daniel Coyle, “The Talent Code“, which I can highly recommend to every coach or teacher. In this book, the author visits and investigates different talent hotbeds, in all sorts of domains: the Clifford soccer schools in Brazil, the baseball fields of the Carribbean, a classical music academy in New York, …

Coyle identifies three key elements of a talent hotbed:
1) Deep learning
Everybody knows that practice is the key to success. But not every practice is equally effective. Some keywords that characterize “deep” learning: challenging, room for making mistakes, breaking down, learning instead of winning, learning to make decisions, …
2) Ignition
We all need a little motivation to get started. Passion is a higher level of commitment and can be triggered by certain primal cues. One single example or event can be such a primal cue and can passionate a whole region or nation for a certain sports. For example, the Belgian tennis federation got an enormous amount of new members after the successes of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.
3) Master coaching
In his book, Coyle describes the characteristics of the world’s most effective coaches, with legendary basketball coach John Wooden being one of them. These “talent whisperers” must fuel the passion and create the right circumstances to ensure the deep learning every single practice.

To me, Lithuania is the best example of a “talent hotbed” in basketball. Lithuania has a population of 3,3 million (among 25000 basketball players) and is worldwide one of the greatest basketball nations (ranked 4th on FIBA world list and silver medal on Eurobasket 2013). Arvydas Sabonis is one Europe’s best players of all time and started his own basketball school in Lithuania. With Sabonis being the president of the Lithuanian basketball federation, they have for sure a man with a vision in the driving seat.

The other Dream Team“, is a great documentary which covers the inspirational story of the 1992 Lithuania national basketball team and their incredible journey from the clutches of Communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona:

The situation in Lithuania has to be an extra motivation for other nations to do better. For example, Belgium has a population 10,7 million (among which 93000 basketball players). On a smaller perspective, every coach should ask the question which percentage of every practice is a situation of “deep learning”. For me, this book also confirms the importance of having a 1st Division basketball team in my region (Limburg). Such a team can and will trigger a lot of little kids to be passionate about the game of basketball! It is a very important condition to create a “talent hotbed”!


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