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Bounce, by Matthew Syed

Tomorrow, we’ll get the Simms analysis on the Conference Championships.  But for today, we have a new book for recommendation that will be added to the UltimateNYG Book Club.  The name of the book is Bounce, written by Matthew Syed.

Matthew Syed is a World Champion Table Tennis Player.  His thesis is that practice is what makes people into great athletes.  More importantly for Syed, he believes that the elite athletes at the pinnacle of the game are the ones who do “purposeful practice” for great lengths of time.  It boils down to time, not talent, that separates the best from the rest. 

I know what you are thinking- that that doesn’t work for football.  Yes, in football, if you are only 6 feet tall, all of the purposeful practice from Day 1 in the crib until you are 23 years old will not allow you to overcome the disadvantage of not seeing above the linemen if you want to be the best (or even just a professional) QB.  Football does discriminate against bad genes.  It is not a complete accident that Syed focuses on athletes in sports such as tennis, table tennis, golf and soccer, where being 6’6″ and 325 lbs is not a requirement.

Regardless of the direct applications to football, the lessons from this book are far-reaching.  Syed’s message about the necessity for hard work is applicable to all sports (including football) and more importantly to all of life’s challenges.  Two players, each who are 6’6″ and 325 lbs, will be distinguished and separated by their effort and coaching.  It is interesting to read this book in the context of Jason Pierre Paul, a player who lacked the hours of purposeful football practice that others had over him.  It sheds a great deal of light on the fact that JPP is disadvantaged by his lack of experience.  It simultaneously reveals how that “upside” is so great if the player can get the “hours” of catch-up playing time.  Syed delves into the subtle cues of sport, of how a tennis player will be able to make a return of a blistering serve based on near-unconscious visual patterns of the server’s body that even the returner cannot articulate.  A pass rusher will have so many years of stored up movements and looks from the offensive linemen, making his pathway to the RB or QB completely REFLEX.  Only at that moment, when the brain has registered such a vast store of information, will the player be able to react correctly without thinking.  Indeed, Plaxico Burress once remarked how he would make certain catches, not knowing exactly how he did it.  After you read the book, you will truly appreciate and understand the universality of that experience.  Not only is Burress not alone, that kind of “athleticism” is precisely what the author describes in himself and many others at the top of the sports world. 

Syed demonstrates how important it is to play against the very best.  That is the only way to get better.  This dovetails with observation we made back in 2008 about Fassel’s era, where the NFC East was a wasteland of poorly coached and ill-prepared teams.  Your divisional rivals make you better.. or they don’t.  You are either improving or you are not.  Stop thinking about ducking the competition and take it head on.

Syed demonstrates the critical component of coaching.  His personal growth as a table tennis player exploded when he began receiving daily practice under the tutelage of a Chinese super coach.

One of the reasons why this book joins the UltimateNYG book club is that the message of hard work and practice is universal.  It has meaning for us not only as fans of sport but as professionals in industry.  Regardless of whatever genes we were given at birth, we can all become experts.  Invest the time in reading this book and it can change the way you look at the world.  It may even have the power to change your life.