If you’ve read The Talent Code – which I strongly recommend – then The Little Book of Talent is a good addition to your library. It comprises 52 primary chapters, which are basically bits of insight based on the principles from the original book. Many of them are just a single page, and the rest aren’t much longer.

Here are a few examples.

“In many skills, particularly athletic, medical, and military ones, there’s a long tradition of working until total exhaustion. This tradition has its uses, particularly for improving fitness and mental toughness (or not), and for forging emotional connections within a group. But when it comes to learning, the science is clear: Exhaustion is the enemy. Fatigue slows brains. It triggers errors, lessens concentration, and leads to shortcuts that create bad habits. It’s no coincidence that most talent hotbeds put a premium on practicing when people are fresh, usually in the morning, if possible. When exhaustion creeps in, it’s time to quit.”

“There’s a moment just before every rep when you are faced with a choice: You can either focus your attention on the target (what you want to do) or you can focus on the possible mistake (what you want to avoid). This tip is simple: Always focus on the positive move, not the negative one. For example, a golfer lining up a putt should tell herself, “Center the stroke,” not “Don’t pull this putt to the left.” A violinist faced with a difficult passage should tell himself, “Nail that A-flat,” not “Oh boy, I hope I don’t miss that A-flat.” Psychologists call this “positive framing,” and provide plentiful theories of how framing affects our subconscious mind. The point is, it always works better to reach for what you want to accomplish, not away from what you want to avoid.”

“One of the most fulfilling moments of a practice session is when you have your first perfect rep. When this happens, freeze. Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind. Memorize the feeling, the rhythm, the physical and mental sensations. The point is to mark this moment—this is the spot where you want to go again and again. This is not the finish—it’s the new starting line for perfecting the skill until it becomes automatic. As Kimberly Meier-Sims of the Sato Center for Suzuki Studies says, “Practice begins when you get it right.””

“Most of us are allergic to mistakes. When we make one, our every instinct urges us to look away, ignore it, and pretend it didn’t happen. This is not good, because as we’ve seen, mistakes are our guideposts for improvement. Brain-scan studies reveal a vital instant, 0.25 seconds after a mistake is made, in which people do one of two things—they look hard at the mistake or they ignore it. People who pay deeper attention to an error learn significantly more than those who ignore it. Develop the habit of attending to your errors right away. Don’t wince, don’t close your eyes; look straight at them and see what really happened, and ask yourself what you can do next to improve. Take mistakes seriously, but never personally.”

There are a number of other interesting bits I plan to write about more specifically in future posts, so keep an eye out.

I should note that while reading The Talent Code first may be useful, it isn’t totally necessary. A big part of that first book is a discussion of myelin production and how it relates to skill acquisition. The Little Book of Talent includes an appendix on that topic, so you can look it over as needed.

Overall, I think The Little Book of Talent is worth reading. The bite-sized nature of the bulk of the presentation makes for easy reading and there are loads of things to get you thinking about your coaching.

For more discussion of content from the book see Training different types of skills and The impact of games on development.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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