Practice Makes Perfect, Not Genetics – Matthew Syed’s Bounce

Why are some people very good at sports while others are left on the touchline? Why do some people become great scientists or salespersons, while others fail in these professions? Is it a genetic predisposition to do well in a particular field, or good old fashioned hard work?

According to Matthew Syed, who was once the best table tennis player in England, winning 3 Commonwealth Golds and competing in 2 Olympic Games, the answer is that those that succeed are the ones that put in most practice.


Matthew Syed bases his theory on his own personal experience. On the street where he grew up there were several national table tennis champions. He was the best in the end, but many of the people living in his area were also top players. Genetic advantage cannot explain this.

So what was the reason for them all being so good at table tennis? The answer is simple – they played a lot. A local community worker, who was also a teacher at the local school, put a tennis table in the local community hall, and the local children would spend many evenings playing in after school clubs. It was one of the only ways for youngsters to pass the time in the quiet neighborhood. As a result, several top class table tennis players were born.

The Danger of Thinking Genetics is the Key to Sporting Success

Syed points out that believing that your genetics determine your ability to succeed is a sure way to fail. Why? While training and competing you will often lose, especially early during your sporting career. However, if you blame your genetics then you are accepting that you can not do better. People literally convince themselves on a concious level that they are not as good as the competition because the competition has a genetic advantage.

As soon as you realise that achievement is the result of hard work, hours training and practising then you have nothing to hold you back. Hard work and focus are also two of Richard St. John’s 8 Secrets Success.

To learn more about Matthew Syed’s theory read his new book, Bounce – How Champions Are Made, where he explains his theory further.

Reviews of Bounce

  • ‘A fascinating subject and Syed is a dazzling writer .’ Owen Slot – The Times
  • ‘A gripping examination of the hidden forces that come together in the making of a champion.’ Michael Atherton – former England cricket captain
  • ‘I love this book. It is a must read if you have ever wondered what sets the super achievers and the rest of us apart, in any field not just in sport. I only wish I had read it when I was 15.’ Gabby Logan – BBC TV Presenter
  • ‘A cutting edge dissection – and ultimate destruction – of the myth of innate talent in the pursuit of excellence. Syed synthesises his evidence with the precision of an academic, writes with the fluidity of a journalist and persuades with the drive of a sportsman. Read this book now – before it’s too late.’ Mark Thomas – Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at University College London
  • ‘Matthew Syed was an exceptionally fine table tennis player and he is an exceptionally fine sports writer…. In the end this book is about the human brain. It is funny and tragic, learned and urgent – the story of the extraordinary capacities we all possess, the irrationalities that drive us to succeed or fail, the opportunities we are given or miss out on.’ Howard Jacobson – award-winning author of Kalooki Nights
  • ‘Intellectually stimulating and hugely enjoyable at a stroke… challenged some of my most cherished beliefs about life and success.’ Jonathan Edwards – Triple Jump World Record Holder and Olympic gold medallist
  • ‘Compelling and, at times, exhilarating – Bounce explains high achievement in sport, business and beyond’ Michael Sherwood – Chief Executive Goldman Sachs International
  • ‘When a book includes subject classifications as diverse as sport and outdoor recreation, Europe, mathematics and popular science, you know you’re not in for a run-of-the mill sports book. Indeed, it’s so wide-ranging that a chapter discussing motivation assesses strategies for understanding educational achievement, morphs onto an examination of Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy and ends with an analysis of Enron’s hiring and promotion strategies (yes, really)… It’s impressively researched, forcefully argued and… extraordinarily interesting and thought-provoking.’ The Bookseller
  • ‘Everything Matthew Syed writes is worth reading’ Lynne Truss, best-selling author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves
  • ‘Cogent discussions of the neuroscience of competition, including the placebo effect of irrational optimism, self-doubt, and superstitions, all lend credence to a compelling narrative; readers who gobbled up Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational will flock to this one.’ Publishers Weekly

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