Look at the top athletes in the world and you’ll notice they come from a variety of backgrounds. Tiger Woods began specializing at a young age, while Roger Federer only specialized as he started to achieve success later. Why did Federer benefit from a generalist childhood vs. a specialization one? Author David Epstein has focused on the topic for his upcoming book Range. He joins the GAINcast this week to talk about what he has found in the research on early specialization in sports, and as well as in other aspects of life.
Notes and quotes
David Epstein is the best-selling author of the The Sports Gene and the upcoming book Range. Epstein has spent much career as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and more recently worked as a science and investigative reporter at ProPublica. He is also a former NCAA All-East 800-meter runner and presented previously at GAIN.
- 4:45 – The genesis of his new book Range and the Roger vs. Tiger problem.
- 9:00 – Maintaining advantages that last: “Often we are mistaking a cross-sectional look for a permanent trajectory. The quickest way to get an advantage is to teach things that are easy to teach, which everyone will learn anyway. So there is a persistent fade-out effect. “
- 12:30 – Cognitive development: “Surprisingly professors who caused the best current achievement, systematically undermined the future performance of students in other classes.”
- 18:00 – Career development.
- 22:15 – 10,000 hours and finding a better developmental model.
- 25:30 – Epstein’s development as a writer.
- 31:30 – Making connections: “Being a generalist gives you the ability to make connections that their more specialized peers can’t see. “
- 35:45 – Short-term vs. long-term: “The biggest competitive advantage a person or a company can have is the ability to focus on the long-term. ” “Any time you start measuring stuff we have a natural inclination to try and maximize it right now. Is the short-term metric really the best indicator of the long-term? In a lot of domains the answer is no. “
- 38:45 – Examples from start ups: “When you talk to successful startups and hear the origin story, they never face the challenges they thought from the outset. Even if it works, it works in a different way than they envisioned. “
- 42:30 – Specialists vs. generalists: “I don’t mean to denigrate specialists. We need them, but society has overvalued them and try to push everyone in that direction. A healthy ecosystem need both. “
- 43:45 – Thought on the fight against oping: “The biological passport is severely imperfect, but helps flag athletes for further testing and investigation even if you don’t catch them. It is a big step in the right direction if it is used to target testing and investigation. “
- 49:30 – Incentives, costs, and doping.
- 54:30 – The role of coaches in doping.
- 58:30 – Epstein’s next project: “As Nobel prize winner Andre Geim says: I like to say I don’t do research, I do search. “
To hear more about these topics you can listen to the full episode above. If you like what you hear on the GAINcast, don’t forget to give us a review and subscribe on iTunes.
The following links were referenced in the podcast or provide some additional reading material on the topic:
- The GAINcast is brought to you by GAIN. Applications for GAIN are now open and you can learn more here or at www.thegainnetwork.com including the schedule released last week.
- We’re also brought to you by HMMR Media. This month’s site theme is the young athlete. We’ve already had some good podcasts with Greg Thompson and James Marshall, plus new video content on games and physical eduction with Greg Thompson, and LTAD with Steve Myrland. Join HMMR Plus so that you don’t miss out and get full access to our video, article, and podcast archive here on HMMR Media.
- Pick up a copy of Epstein’s new book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World starting May 28th. You can also pick up his first book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, recommended by both Martin and Vern.
- You can follow Epstein on Twitter (@DavidEpstein). Also be sure to sign up for his free monthly newsletter. You can learn more about him on his website.
- We also reference Epstein’s chats with Malcolm Gladwell at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. You can watch video of the 2019 conversation and 2014 conversation. We also referenced an interview with former Panera CEO Ron Shaich. You can read about it here and listen to it on the New Yorker podcast.