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Bounce Summary

Bounce looks at what it takes to become successful and whether it all comes down to hard work or talent.

The author, Matthew Syed, is a former professional table tennis player and he uses the world of sports as an example of what drives success.

I’m sure all of us believed we could do what the top sports stars do at one point or another. I know I have! Syed looks at this question and tries to answer it.

What makes the best the best? Why are some successful and others less so?

Talent is the answer most people give, but that’s only half the answer and in some cases not the answer at all.

Syed’s premise is similar to the one Malcolm Gladwell outlines in his book, Outliers. Certain people rise to the top, what’s the reason for this?

What Syed uncovers, through research and his own experience is deliberate and intense practice is more important than any innate talent you may possess.

This Bounce summary will take a look at three key points from Syed’s book, what they mean and how they apply to you.

Let’s get into it!

Bounce summary

  • 1-sentence summary: Bounce looks at what makes people successful and suggests it’s the result of hours of deliberate practice rather than any innate talent.
  • Author: Matthew Syed
  • Pages: 296
  • Year published: 2010
  • Rating: 7/10

Takeaway 1 – Environment is a key component of being successful

A common part of success which is neglected is environment. We tend to think success is down to the innate qualities of the person.

But, the environment they’re in plays a bigger part than we realise. Syed uses himself as an example to illustrate this.

His parents bought a regulation-sized table tennis table which went into their garage in 1978 while Syed was a child.

This meant he could practice as much as he wanted when he wasn’t at school. Add an older brother into the mix who was as competitive as Syed, and you can see how he developed his talent.

A further stroke of luck was that Syed went to school with a teacher who was obsessed with sports and table tennis in particular. He happened to be ‘the nation’s top coach and a senior figure in the English Table Tennis Association.’

Then, there was also a local table tennis club which was available to those who had access 24 hours a day. Syed and his brother would train here religiously.

Given these circumstances, it’s no surprise Syed became a proficient table tennis player. Would this have been the case if his environment wasn’t so favourable?

We’ll never know but it’s unlikely. Your environment is crucial. The right one you to develop your skills and prosper, while the wrong one may not provide you with the opportunity whatsoever.

Takeaway 2 – Child prodigies are a myth

The archetype of the child prodigy is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He began composing music for the piano and violin at the age of five.

The temptation is to think that Mozart was born with the gift of composing music. This isn’t true. Again his environment played a key role.

But so did the guidance of his teacher, his father Leopold.

Leopold was a composer himself and started training his son in an intensive program when he was three.

By the time Mozart was six, he has accrued 3,500 hours of practice on the piano. Close to half of the mythical 10,000-hour rule which is said to be needed to master any given craft.

The same circumstances applied to Tiger Woods. He started playing golf at an early age and became proficient at an early age.

This was due to his father’s love of the game and his desire to teach his son how to play.

Child prodigies are often presented as geniuses and gifted. But the reality is they’ve put in hours and hours of practice behind the scenes to hone their skills.

Without this practice, they wouldn’t be recognised as prodigies at all. Deliberate practice is necessary to become successful. The more of it and the earlier you start, the better.

Takeaway 3 – Similarities can inspire us to work harder

One of the biggest barriers in athletics during the early 20th century was running the mile in under 4 minutes.

No one had been able to do it and during the 1940s, the record stayed rooted at 4:01.

It was widely thought breaking the 4-minute barrier was impossible. That it was beyond the capability of humans.

Then in 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a four-minute mile, when he won a race in England with a time of 3:59.

Now that it had been proven you could run a mile in under four minutes, more people started to break the barrier.

A month after Bannister crossed the threshold, another athlete dipped below four minutes too.

Four years after Bannister became the first person to break the barrier, twenty more athletes joined him. The record has now tumbled to 3:56.

Why did so many athletes break the barrier after Bannister became the first to so do?

Syed argues it was because they were motivated by association. Eleven of the twenty athletes who dipped below the four-minute barrier were British or Irish like Bannister.

They saw what he accomplished and realised if he could do it so could they. The other athletes realised the differences between them and Bannister were minimal.

They were similar to Bannister and this provided them with all the motivation they needed to emulate his success.

Favourite Quotes

  • “It is the quality and quantity of practice, not genes, that is driving progress.”
  • “Time and again, the amazing abilities of experts turn out to be not innate gifts but skills drawn from years of dedication that disappear as soon as they are transported beyond their specific realm of expertise.”
  • “I have regularly played table tennis with world-renowned footballers, tennis players, golfers, boxers, badminton players, rowers, squash players, and track and field athletes, and discovered that they are all dramatically slower in their table-tennis specific response times than even elderly players who have the benefit of regular practice.”
  • “Every second of every minute of every hour, the goal is to extend one’s mind and body, to push oneself beyond the outer limits of one’s capacities to engage so deeply in the task that one leaves the training session, literally, a changed person.”
  • “The talent theory of expertise is not merely flawed in theory: it is insidious in practice, robbing individuals and institutions of the motivation to change themselves and society.”

Bounce review

This Bounce summary has looked at Matthew Syed’s fascinating book on what it takes to become successful.

I’m a huge sports fan, so any book to do with sports is one I can devour in a matter of hours.

Syed’s book is different as it’s looking at how sports stars and those in other fields become successful. Yet, it was still an illuminating read.

One of the biggest myths in sports, and life in general, revolves around talent. We’re led to believe people are successful because they have an innate talent.

David Epstein explores this in his excellent book The Sports Gene, and although certain people may be predisposed to success in some sports, it doesn’t all come to down talent.

Talent is a small part of the network of things that contribute to success.

This was a fun read and one which made me question some of my long-held beliefs.

Any book that achieves this is worth reading!

Who should read Bounce?

If you want to understand what drives people to become successful, this book is an excellent guide.

You’ll get to see how famous stars in a variety of fields rose to the top and the methods that took them there.

Anyone who’s interested in sports or psychology will find this book fascinating and worth reading!