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Dan Coyle

The Path Forward Goes through Intensive Practice - Interviews Dan Coyle

Dan Coyle, the New York Times bestselling author of “The Talent Code”opened the U.S. Soccer + SPARQ Player Development Summit on Tuesday night. In his talk to more than 150 youth technical leaders in this country, Coyle discussed the development of expertise and the fostering of an environment for excellence. caught up with him at Nike International Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore to find out a bit more about his research. What is your background and how did this book come about?
Dan Coyle: "I'm a writer and I've been working in the area of high performance for a lot of years, both in magazine journalism and in book-length journalism. I studied a bit of science and literature in college, so it's all coming around." We’re asking this very broad question to all the coaches at the summit: why is training important?
DC: “People normally think of training and practice as something that is important, something you're obligated to do and sort of like a chore in some ways, but they don't think of it as being magical. They don't think of it as having the ability to deeply change someone. But when you look at the science, when you look at the changes that good practice makes in the human brain, you see that practice has the ability to profoundly change levels of talents and skill. High quality practice is the most accessible and most direct path to higher performance." In your talk Tuesday night you gave plenty of examples of the relationship between practice, coaching and development of talent. How does this relate to soccer?
DC: "Human beings are learning machines. In studying for the book I went to talent hotbeds around the world and looked at the common principles – little places that produce impossible numbers of talent in performers. Looking at those places and seeing the commonalities they have shows the way the human brain learns. It takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to get good at anything, whether it's chess, conducting a symphony, neurology or soccer. The human brain learns in certain ways at a certain rate. These places and these principles, which have to do with substances that get deposited in our brain when we practice in certain ways, don't change no matter who you are. The path forward is always the same and it goes through intensive practice." Part of the curriculum being unveiled at the summit focuses on the development of very young players. Why is it necessary to focus on this age group?
DC: "They are sort of your golden learning years. When you look at the development that happens in the brain from six to 12, it's something that you never have the chance to get back. There's a reason that people who play in world-class symphonies all start between the ages of six and 12. There's no 13-year old who plays violin in the New York Symphony. Starting then, when the brain is making those changes, you get the most out of each repetition and you get the most change with the least effort. It's funny; coaches often don't like to work with younger kids. They want to work with older kids because there's more glamour and in certain cases, more money. But when you look at the impact a coach can have, when you look at the sheer power that coaching can have on the development of an athlete, Zone 1 from ages six to 12 is the golden time." You mentioned you traveled around the world while researching your book. During that process what was an unlikely example of a discipline you found to be similar to soccer?
DC: “It's funny, this comparison: soccer is about solving problems. It's about moving a ball past obstacles and the choices you have. With more choices and more selections you have, the person with more cards to play at each obstacle will be the better soccer player. That skill of having a problem and solution, problem and solution - a constant chain - is actually a lot like writing. It's a lot like writing a story. You bump into a problem and improvise a way around it. That act of improvisation doesn't come from nowhere. It comes from years of practice and building circuitry as a writer or as a soccer player to encounter a problem and have cards you can play, have actual circuits you fire in your brain to solve that problem. So that was one of the comparisons I took most personally. You can really see there are a million ways to solve a problem and your challenge as a writer or a soccer player is to be able to have a lot of solutions at your disposal."