With the right kind of training, you can basically do incredible things. – Anders Ericsson
Airdate: 
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

He calls it "The Dan Plan". A few years ago, at age 30, Dan McLaughlin quit his full-time job to pursue the unlikeliest of goals: to become a professional elite golfer competing alongside the world’s best. This is despite the fact that he’d only ever played a couple of rounds of golf.

It’s all part of Dan’s dedication to the so-called "10,000 Hour Rule" – the idea that anyone can become an expert in anything if they simply complete 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.

A few years in, Dan is about half way through his training program, and his handicap now puts him in the top four per cent of golfers in the United States.

Can he make it all the way?

This week, Insight asks if people are born with talent, or if there is untapped potential in all of us.

Presenter: Jenny Brockie 
Producer: Paige MacKenzie 
Associate Producer: Sarah Allely 
Associate Producer: Anna Watanabe

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, posting on our Facebook page

 

Web Extra: The 10,000 Hour Rule

In his 1993 article "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance," Anders Ericsson and his co-authors presented the '10,000 Hour Rule'.

They found that people who completed an average of 10 years - or roughly 10,000 hours - of "deliberate practice", were able to reach elite levels in their given field. Therefore, they concluded that practice, not genetics, was the key to success.

Deliberate practice is the act of rehearsing an action over and over again. In the case of sport, deliberate practice extends to include actions such as repeatedly kicking a soccer ball, or serving a series of tennis balls in a particular manner – before playing a full game.

Ericsson asserts the only genetic factors which may influence performance are height, perfect pitch and fast typing, and that beyond this, we are more or less on a level playing field.

Image caption: Anders Ericsson speaking during the show. (Credit: Insight SBS)

Reuben in Training

Watch Insight guest and Kenyan Olympic gold medallist Reuben Kosgei in training.

Who are the Kalenjin?

Kenya is renowned for producing some of the world's best distance runners, and the majority of them belong to one small tribe - the Kalenjin.

Dirk Lund Christensen has studied and written about the Kalenjin. He believes it is their body type - not training - which puts them ahead of their competitors over and over again.

"We have found that the morphology - actually the legs, the lower legs are different," Christensen said.

"The Kalenjin have exceptionally low lower-leg mass. If you consider the leg as a pendulum, the energy (oxygen) used to swing the leg is dependent on the weight distribution of the leg. "

Reuben, however, disagrees. "I was not born with a talent," he says. "Training, I believe in training."

He says his training started young - he used to have to run 10km one way to school every day before the age of 10.

So do you think we have innate talent? Or is everyone capable of greatness equally? Have your say below.

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, welcome everybody, good to have you here. Dan, you're trying to reach a very specific goal, what is it?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I decided at the age of 30 that I was ready to transition in life and I was interested in human potential so more or less on a whim I picked golf and decided that I would quit my career, pick up some golf clubs and practice for 10,000 hours to reach the highest level in that sport, to basically essentially reach PGA tour golf level.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So just backtrack here, the 10,000 hours, what do you mean by the 10,000 hours practice?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's essentially based on research and the idea is that it takes roughly between 8 and 12,000 hours of deliberate practice to basically, I mean reach the pinnacle of any specific"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: To be great essentially?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: To be great, to be like, you know, top notch, top 1 percent. Better than that, top .1 percent in any specific field.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Had you played golf before?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: No, I had minimal experience. I played a par 3 course maybe once or twice with my brother, nine holes, and I think maybe two times in my life gone to a driving range when I was ten years old, twelve years old.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So why golf?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, that's a good question. On my 30th birthday I played that par three course and I was just absolutely horrible. It was a par three, nine holes for 27 is what you're supposed to shoot and I think I was 30 strokes over par. So which you know, it's like, it's like"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Alisa thinks that's really bad?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, and afterwards my brother and I were discussing like, well, you know, if you were willing to just drop everything and just completely dedicate yourself, how far could you go? Could you make it to the top? And"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you really believe that you can?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Well at the time I was like, I don't know, you know, we're just having a bet. Like could you, couldn't you? Like how would you ever know? And I decided that I was going to do it, I was going to quit my job and I was going to do something, I just didn't know what and I thought architecture, art, music. Golf kept coming back into my head. I'm like okay, well there's an international system set up that tracks your progress, there's no specific age limit, there's no human archetype like you have to be this tall and like this weight and this size. There's"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And it's measurable?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, it's measurable.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How many hours a day to train?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I mean there's a difference between hours a day and the number of deliberate practice hours I get because I only count my interaction when I'm highly focused working with a club and a ball. So I could be at a course for eight hours a day but only get in four hours of training.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. I'll talk to you about how you're going in a moment. Anders Ericsson in Tallahassee in Florida, Dan is pinning his hopes on some research that you've done actually back in the '90s. Tell us what you did and what you found?

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON, FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, we actually identified some students at the international music academy and we were asking the question here, when you're looking at this elite group, can you explain some of the individual differences in terms of the practice that they have accumulated during their career. And in particular we're looked at this time when somebody works alone on tasks that their music teacher has assigned to them and then we got an estimate showing that the very best musicians at that music academy had actually practiced more than those other musicians who had reached lower levels. And what we found was at age 20 the average of this, the top musician group had over 10,000 hours of time spent practicing by themselves.

 

Obviously if you are born blind you're not going to be able to play soccer, but if we exclude height, which we know is genetically determined, we've yet to find any attribute that you really can't change by the best, most appropriate type of training. But when it comes to actually this raw kind of attribute that you're just simply born with, we've yet to find evidence for such attributes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you react when Dan contacted you about what he planned to do?

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON: I was excited because I think there's very, very few people who are willing to kind of, you know, dedicate themselves to really try to achieve their highest level.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think he's going to make it?

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON: I think basically that's the wrong question. I'm more interested in will he ever find any attribute that he can't conquer with the right kind of training. With the right kind of training, you can do basically incredible things.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Dan, you're four years now into this experiment. How's it going, what's your handicap?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: That's everybody, even before I had a handicap that was the first question. You know, I remember my uncle, a year in, I'd never played a full round yet because I didn't play a full round till about two years into the project, my uncle called me, what's your handicap now? Well I haven't gotten one yet. He's like okay and then hung up.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What's your handicap?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: My handicap got down, the lowest it's been is I think 2.4 and it's hovering between about 2 and a 4 right now.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What proportion of the population would have a handicap like that?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Mid 2s would the top maybe 6 percent of golfers.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. And are you still improving or have you plateaued, where are you up to?

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Right, it's, it's, not a linear line, it's not a linear curve at all. You know, there are steps and I'm still improving, everything's improving.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you think there's natural talent in there as well that you have for golf, or do your trainers say oh, you've got a perfect body for golf or you've got a great swing or you've got some thing that you need to have?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Well when I started I didn't even have a swing so I built it. Now people who see me on the range, like oh, man, you're such a natural. I'm like yes, 5,000 hours of natural ability. I mean I don't think that there's anything that, like anything that's screamed out from the get go that I was"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Golf, golf?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, I didn't have that golf body everybody talks about. So I wouldn't say that there's any kind of like born talents that I had and that was kind of the beauty of why I"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: That's why you wanted to do it?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, to test this theory?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: To see how far the average 30 year old like desk jockey can make it in athletics.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Andrew, you coached Nick Kyrgios who recently beat the world number 1, Rafael Nadal at Wimbeldon, the great cause of celebration in Australia. You coached him from the age of 4 to 15, is that right?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: Yeah, he was about 14 when he went to the high performance centre.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm interested in what you think listening to this, you know what do you think about training versus natural talent?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: Well, I come from a tennis background and I think that to be an elite tennis player you need to do a lot of training at a younger age. I don't think anybody could do it at 30. But I really think that you need a natural, natural base to start from and then you need some good guidance along the way to get you to your high levels.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So how much of Nick Kyrgios' talent is born and how much is made do you think?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: A lot of Nick is Nick. He is an amazing athlete. He's, you know, I've watched tapes of him when he was young and training and he was, when he was on court training he was fantastic. He always put in every session and it's taken him a long way.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Presumably the kids that come to you, you know, have a considerable amount of talent, or have some talent?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think it's possible that 10,000 hours could deliver greatness to them if they had the perseverance - had the willingness to do what Dan's doing?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: I think that if they did 10,000 hours of quality training they would be an excellent tennis player, but that extra 1 percent that they need to be elite, it doesn't come with training. It comes with passion, mental fortitude, something that's within them that they can then bring to the court and use to beat their opponent.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. So where do you come, you come down on the side of, you know you can go so far, but you don't think Dan will get to be right at the top of the tree necessarily?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: I don't think if he did 100,000 hours he'd be an elite golfer at this age. So I think that he's going to be an excellent golfer, but then to get to be an elite golfer where you're competing at tournaments, it's more than just the skill base. It has to be something innate in you that makes you want to compete and perform at that level when the pressure's on, that's the real key thing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: We'll talk about that a bit later, the whole mentality thing because I think that's a really interesting area of this. Alisa, you're an Olympic gold medallist in aerial skiing, what do you think of what Dan's trying to do?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: I think it's a great case study and I'm interested to know after all these hours where Dan's passion for golf and passion for succeeding sits because I'm a big believer that the person is what sits behind the athlete and then that person acquires the physical skillsets, the mental desire, the mental fortitude and I guess sports psychology high performance mindset through the course of their journey of life and as an athlete and it's the sum of all those things, plus all the experiences that make, whether you're going to succeed or not.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's have a look at you doing that Olympic jump because it's incredible to watch and I just want to give everyone a sense of what Alisa actually does. Let's have a look, or did.

 

 

VIDEO PLAYED.

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: I was just staring at the screen waiting to see if she would have more points than me. My mum was toppling over the edge and I remember screaming out: "What are you doing here, you are so naughty. I told you not to come."

 

JENNY BROCKIE: I've got goose bumps watching that, what's it like for you seeing that?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: Um, a lot of pride and, um, it's still a small element of disbelief that, you know, I actually won.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you get started on aerial skiing, because this is interesting I think, that you didn't have a passion to do aerial skiing from the beginning, did you?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: No, my passion was to be become an Olympian. I loved sport, I did Little Athletics for years, you know, I swam since I was nine weeks of age. I also tried to play field hockey, I did years as a gymnast, I did some sailing, each of those sports I was hoping and having Olympic aspirations and was relatively successful from a junior athlete perspective, but it wasn't till I was 19 and just randomly sort of came across aerial skiing as a potential Olympic route for me and I've got to say it was watching Kirsty Marshall in 1994 at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics qualify in first place for the final and I thought well, gee whiz, this country must have expertise and knowledge and systems and funding and everything that it takes to get an Australian woman in the start gate and capable of winning.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So it was quite a calculated decision?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: Oh, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: It wasn't like I have a real passion for this sport, I must play this sport?

ALISA CAMPLIN: Had a passion for the acrobatic side as an ex-gymnast and I"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And for being an Olympian?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: Yes, and I loved to compete and I think I liked the process of learning and developing and trying to achieve things, but at the beginning aerial skiing was just a vehicle and then I fell in love with the sport.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: If you'd been a different body type would you have done as well do you think?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: I think the spectrum of body types that succeed in aerial skiing is little bit like what Dan said, there's not one perfect model. This body type could have probably succeeded in a number of different sports and it was not any way unsuited to aerial skiing. Certainly unsuited to sports like netball, for example, so I would never have bothered pursuing them, so you know"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Because you just weren't the right size for netball?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: Correct, you know I'm 5 foot 2, I was never going to be tall enough to be considered for an Australian team so I didn't want to bother going down those sorts of avenues.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Anders, I want to put that to you because you know, you said you couldn't find any reason why people couldn't be great with this training.

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON: Well I think when it comes to height, you know, we've always maintained that is genetically determined and there's really no type of training that would allow you to get taller. And I think in gymnastics we know that a short stature is related here to your probability of success in the same way that being tall is really helpful for a centre in a basketball team. I've been looking for over now thirty years for evidence that you can actually identify in young individuals that would preclude them from being successful in various domains. So what we're emphasising here is the building of expert performance by training, especially when it's supervised by a very good teacher.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Tamara, you're a pianist and you have perfect pitch. Tell us what that means?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: What it means is that I can tell you what the notes are if you played me a few notes on any instrument.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So you can straight away pick up, you know, if it's a sharp, if it's a flat, if it's - what octave it is, all that?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: Doesn't matter where it is or whether it's sharp or flat, and that's just something that I was born with and my mother discovered it because she would play a few notes and I would just say, you know, A, C.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How old were you when you were doing that?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I think I was one or two, I was very young.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: One or two?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I was very young.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And your mother was a teacher, a music teacher?

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: Yes, yes, and then she of course turned it into"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Did she drill this into you in the womb do you think?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I'm sure she did, and you know and then she kind of turned this into this wonderful game where I would perform my wonderful, my wonderful trick for everyone.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Let's have a listen to one of your very first performance, I think it is the first performance at the Sydney Town Hall at the age of three.

 

VIDEO PLAYED.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Three, very cute, even though you're squirming listening to that. So I'm very interested in this because you're around music, you're a toddler, you know, a tiny little thing, yet you were confident you were born with it, why? What about practice, what about practicing and that?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I was never aware of doing any practice whatsoever as a child. I would go to the piano a lot and I loved going to the piano. I guess especially in those early years like I just evolved completely naturally and it was all about experimentation and I just try this out and do this, and it was after those few years that my mum started to train me, I suppose, you know, conventionally.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, what did you want to ask?

 

MUSIC TEACHER: I'm a musician and a music teacher as well and I actually did a thesis last year on this aspect of nature and nurture when it comes to music education. And with regards to perfect pitch, there's actually a lot of research that says it is not something you're born with, it is something you learnt, something you're taught sorry, by exposure.

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I take your point. I think probably, I was probably exposed to more than 10,000 hours of music by the time I was five or something, you know, so.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Scott Koffman in New York, you're a psychologist, you've looked into this whole issue of talent and greatness. Is greatness in anything born or made, can we say to what degree it is?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: So first of all I want to say that the born or made dichotomy is false. They're both always interacting with each other. And a key point I want to make is that not all practice is deliberate. So some practice can be unconscious and not everyone who has the same level of exposure is going to soak up that exposure automatically the same way.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So what do you think then of Anders' 10,000 hour idea?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Well I love it in the sense that deliberate practice can be very important and the 10,000 hours is not a magic number and I think Anders would fully admit that, that that's been misrepresented in popular account of his work - that there is no magic number. That people differ very much in how long it takes them to get there.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think of what Dan's doing?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: I've talked to Dan before. I've watched, I've read his blog posts, I've been following him. Something that's strikes me is just how amazingly dedicated he is to improve and this is something that maybe a talent in itself and you see that among the really, really elite performers. Like you see, I've read every biography possible about Michael Jordan, for instance, and you see that he really has that drive and that willingness to just put in those hours and that itself might be a form of genetic predisposition and I think it probably is determined in some way by genetics. I think that has it.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, that was my next question, do you know what role genes play in all of this?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: We know genes do play a role. They do play a small role but these things add up and they multiply over the years.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How are you going Dan?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I'm good.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Listening to all of this you're feeling good?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, yeah, good to see you Scott.

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Good to see you too.

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I mean outside of a little bit of jetlag I'm doing great. I agree and I love this idea of, I mean for me when somebody asks me about talent I just say talent is the ability to stay passionate over a long period of time and it's the ability to stay engaged and really just want something, it's that ability to stay driven.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Nir, you're a geneticist, what do you think of the 10,000 hours theory and what Dan's doing?

 

NIR EYNON: Yeah, it's a valid point, 10,000 hours and training will make a very big difference I think. But there is also genetic component around that and we're looking into it at the moment. But a lot of trained studies and family studies have shown that even if you control everything, almost everything that you can do with humans, there's still big variability between people on how they respond to training. So for instance, one person can increase their maximal oxygen consumption or their aerobic capacity to similar training of four weeks in 30 percent whereas others can do it only 5 percent. So you can see there's a lot of variability between people and we strongly suspect there's genetics behind it. The biggest problem I think in the sport genetic war is that we haven't been able to identify, fully identify all the genes behind that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: But if you haven't identified them how do you know they're there?

 

NIR EYNON: That's the suspicion that we have.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and it may be the way a gene interacts with something like training or some activity?

 

NIR EYNON: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Or the activity rather than - because I think when people think genes they think oh, the brilliant gene or the"¦

 

NIR EYNON: Not at all.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Or the talented at golf gene or the great tennis player gene"¦

 

NIR EYNON: Not at all.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: But it doesn't work like that?

 

NIR EYNON: No, it doesn't work like that because there's genetic and environment and I agree with Scott saying that it's not born or made, or born versus made, it's born and made. So I think that there is some people that even if they try and train very, very hard, 10,000, even 20,000 hours, they'll be better, they'll be much better but they probably won't be world champions.

So the question is that I'm always asking is if I take one of the people here, or maybe some of the people here to train with the best athletes in the world, with the best mountain runner in the world, who runs two hours, less than two hours in four minutes, are they able to run, would they be able to run for two hours and four minutes? Even after five years, even after ten years, I don't think so because it's very, very exceptional. So even if we haven't been able to identify all the genes that are responsible for that because it's very, very complex, it doesn't mean that it's not there.

 

REUBEN KOSGEI VIDEO PLAYED.

 

COMMENTATOR: 400 metres to go. Kenya one, Kenya two. Being wound up now BY Kosgei in the lead. Kosgei coming through quickly. I think it’s Kosgei, Kosgei took it! The reigning world junior champion.

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: My name is Reuben Kosgei and I’m a runner. Kenya, training is very hard. People train very fast. People, they do it as a job. We believe ourselves that we are the best in the world. I have been in Australia for so many years. At the moment I am based in Melbourne. Australia is my second home anyway. At the moment I'm training for long distance running. Before I was running 3,000 which is a middle distance and now I am running for a longer distance. That is my main target to win gold in Rio. That is why now I am starting in the Gold Coast Marathon, to build up for the next Olympics.

 

MAN: You are looking good! Fantastic! Feeling well?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yep.

 

COMMENTATOR: Number 2 is Reuben Kosgei! The Olympic champion gold medal! Reuben Kosgei.

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Today is the start of my preparation for Rio. Compared to the race today, training in Kenya is harder. This is easy. This is what Kenyans always believe – train up, win easy. Train hard, win easy.

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Reuben, train hard, win easy, you didn't even look out of breath there. That was not hard for you, that race?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yeah, compared to the training that was not really hard. Training is very hard. I feel faint in training, very tight legs, and all those things, but in competition I did it very easy. I enjoy it, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you were born with a talent to run?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: No, I was not born with a talent. Training, I believe in training. Because my success in running start a long time ago, long, long time when I was in primary school I run to school.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How far was it to school?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Um, actually it was about really kilometres but we estimate ten, ten or more.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Ten kilometres you ran to school?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: We ran to school?

 

JENNY BROCKIE: In primary school?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: In primary school.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How old were you when you were running that far?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Seven, seven years, eight years, around there, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you would do that more than once a day because you came home for lunch, is that right?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Students those days, when I was years seven and eight I was in like, I was in lower, lower classes so I just run in the morning because teachers in school were very strict. So if you became late in school you get caned or yeah, like total punishment so have to wake up early in the morning. That's why it forced me to run.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And run fast?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yeah, and run fast, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Now I know that there are a lot of very good runners from your tribe, the Kalenjin, aren't there? You produce a lot of good runners from your tribe, yeah?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yeah, we produce lots of runners in my tribe, yes, that is true. Because I know most runners in Kenya are from Kalenjin.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Dirk Christensen in Copenhagen, you've studied the Kalenjin in Kenya. Why do you think they're such good distance runners?

 

DIRK CHRISTENSEN, UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN: Well, first and foremost the hard training of course matters a lot but if you don't have the right genetic make-up you will never make up in sports. And for the Kalenjin they seem to have more talent for middle and long distance running than others.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: In what way?

 

DIRK CHRISTENSEN: Well, they have lower mass, so we have studied not only runners but also untrained boys, Kalenjin boys and Danish boys, looked at the lower leg mass and there's a 400 gram difference between the Danes and Kalenjins. So Kalenjin seem to have higher mechanical efficiency so when they run they are more economical. This lower leg mass makes them use less oxygen for given speed when you test, when they run on a treadmill the Kalenjin is much more economical compared to the Scandinavian.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How much better are the Kalenjin at distance running than the majority of the population or other athletes, have you measured that?

 

DIRK CHRISTENSEN: Well we haven't compared to other ethnic groups within Kenya so I can't really answer that question. But we can say that they are much, much better than at least Scandinavians in Europe. I'm not sure how much that really tells you but we do produce good runners every now and then but yeah, so they're much, much better. Much more, the talent pool in among the Kalenjin is absolutely enormous.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What about the fact that they run kilometres to school every day and train at altitude? Could that account for their success?

 

DIRK CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, we have to disentangle the things now because it's, now we have this interaction and then it's always difficult to explain but running to and from school I think in itself does not make you a great runner, but it's like the 20,000 hour hypothesis. Anyone who trains a lot in a specific sport or event, culture, will of course be better than if he or she didn't do it or those who train less. But it still takes a certain amount of talent and you may recall Wilson Kipketer who lived in Denmark and who used to hold the world record for the 800 metres? He lives just next to his school.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Anders, you've had a look at the data on Kenyan runners and how much of it is physical, what do you think?

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON: Well I think it's very interesting and I agree that we don't have, haven't made enough research to be able to know, you know, what those differences are, because I think many people, runners who've come to Kenya to train with the Kenyans are really realising that they're training at an intensity level that is much higher than they're used to from their home country. But I would state here let's find more money to do research that would allow us to pinpoint whether in fact there are differences.

JENNY BROCKIE: I wonder what you think of the way Australian runners train, Reuben, given how gruelling your training is, the way you describe it. What do you think about the training here?

REUBEN KOSGEI: The training here is good but is a little bit different to our training. Training is very important so Australians, we train here very easy. We run very easy, even if we do speed work, we do like speed work not really hard. Maybe 70 percent or 80 percent, but as in Kenya we really do actually 100 percent. You see, you train, if you finish you have to lie down, like you finish the race. That's difference, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: That's why you didn't look particularly like you needed to lie down after that marathon I think, maybe, yeah?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: It's better I lie down in training than I lie down in race.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, very good point. Nir, we were talking about genetics before, is there such a thing as a genetic predisposition to run, for example?

 

NIR EYNON: Oh, that's a big question. I believe there is, I believe that there is, but the biggest problem again is that we haven't been able to pinpoint all the genes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you're studying sprinters and endurance athletes to find out how they respond to training aren't you?

 

NIR EYNON: Yes. So our basic study is to take just simple people, simple people, I would say keen exercisers, that's the right word, and we apply four weeks of very high intensive training and want to see if people have improved or disimproved based on their genetics. So they, some people are improving their training, similar training by 30 percent; some people are only 10 percent. And we control the environment, we control the diet, we control pre meal, we control the physical activity as much as we can. So people are different. Now the next step for us is to pinpoint the genes that are responsible for that.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes, the why?

 

NIR EYNON: The why.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Lucinda, getting away from sport but still on this question of talent, you were the principal ballerina with the Australian Ballet. What do you think listening to this about this idea of how much is innate or how much is you're born with and how much is learned? Do you have to be a particular body type though to do ballet?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: It really helps. The way that you work and the way that you work your technique and your body in the studio you can change various aspects of your body, you can lengthen muscles, you can, I suppose, feel them and become a little bit taller and lengthen out the limbs, which is what a lot of people see as ballerinas to have. If you are a smaller person and have incredibly huge thighs, for instance, you probably will never become a prima ballerina, even after 10,000 or 100,000 hours. Aesthetics plays a huge role in being on stage and the mental capacity of performing in front of thousands of people by yourself is as much training as it is what your body does.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So do you think yours was natural talent, do you think that you were born to dance?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: My mother is a performer, she was a singer, dancer, actress and an entertainer in musicals and that's the field that I really thought I wanted to follow when I was younger. And I enjoyed ballet and the old types of dancing as I was growing up. Again, I didn't feel like it was studied. I didn't feel like I was going to train.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So there was pleasure involved?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: Absolutely, yeah, I really liked it. I was good at it to some extent but I didn't have this stand-out, knock down ability that that person is going to become, you know, one of the best in this country.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So you think you learned a lot of that to get to the point you did?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: There's a lot of training involved and a lot of people behind me and coaches and guidance. But I don't think somebody next to me could have done the same amount of hours and achieved what I did with different genetics or aesthetics.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You don't think they could have?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: I don't think so.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, interesting. Neil, you have an eye for picking cricket talent, you're worked with Michael Clark, Mitchell Stark, Phil Hughes, what do you look for?

 

NEIL D'COSTA: Well I think firstly talent makes a big, you know, you have to have a base talent, but I think it's the love for something. Because, I think with the thing I've seen with the athletes I've had, Mitchell Stark was a bit of an exception, he wasn't actually a bowler when I saw him, he was a wicket keeper and I said to him mate, you'll be the tallest wicket keeper in the history of the game so I don't think you can do that. Let's try and turn you into a bowler and we actually taught him how to bowl off one step, two steps and I think the aspect was it was so boring and he kept coming back, he didn't give up and I kept seeing him there going he's back again, guess what, you can do three steps now? So that was interesting.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So this is attitude?

 

NEIL D'COSTA: It's attitude. Then the next one is about, you know, failing. I mean I was with Michael when he got dropped from the test side, I picked him up from the airport and he was quite shattered and I well look, you know, we've got twenty four hours, you can cry and do whatever you want to do but after that you've got to step up. Four days later he went and played for his club side and made 200 and then another 200 for NSW and got back in. I think you have to fail, you have to fall down off the, you know, it was great to see you win that medal and lot of us seen that but we never seen all the times you fell down and you probably fell down a lot. Thank God you didn't fall down that day.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, well you've had a lot of injuries, haven't you? Can you rattle through some of those injuries for us? I mean you won that gold medal having broken both ankles six weeks earlier, right?

 

ALISA CAMPLIN: Yeah. At my last five and a half weeks of training before Salt Lake City Olympics was all visual imagery because I had been doing sport psychology intensely as part of my preparation for the games for over twelve months and you know, I just dropped the physical training because I couldn't do it and replaced it with mental training. I would have to say that the physical setbacks are much easier than the mental and emotional ones because you can repair your body and you can move on. I would say over the twenty years of life before I got to the Olympics, all the setbacks that I had had emotionally around my sporting career and perhaps some of the things that happened in life were what prepared me far more aggressively and made me mentally strong and had the capacity to keep fighting.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Neil, you think failure is really important?

 

NEIL D'COSTA: I'd say yeah, well at the moment my job I see as a coach is to build the environment for the player to have all those skills and, you know, I set players up at training to fail. I do make it as hard as I can so they do fail and I keep saying to them if you walk away from training saying geez I was fantastic, I don't know if I'm doing my job right. I need you to go home crying and then I want to know if you're going to come back.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So apart from the stand outs, you know, apart from the kids you see that can just swing a bat like magic or bowl like magic, I mean what else do you look for?

NEIL D'COSTA: It's that determination.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So Dan's highly motivated, right, could you turn him into a great cricketer?

 

NEIL D'COSTA: He's American, so no.

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I watched cricket for the first time last night, I don't quite get anything about it.

 

NEIL D'COSTA: Yeah, I watch Usain Bolt and I can't beat him. So I think"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: No, but I'm asking you quite seriously, I mean, if I present you with a child who has all those characteristics you just described, determination, a willingness to pick themselves up after they've failed, you know, but isn't particularly showing some prodigious talent as a cricketer, is a kid like that worth putting the time into?

 

NEIL D'COSTA: We know that, we talked about that Nick was a really overweight young kid as a tennis player. So someone saw his talent and guided him with that natural talent into being a professional athlete.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Was that you Andrew?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: Yeah, we sort of based his game around him not moving as much as most other tennis players. So he developed, he developed first strike tennis pretty much where he would hit and get control of the point whether he was serving or receiving. But I think in, I'll talk just from tennis terms, I think in tennis there's often a lot of children who excel at a young age and you see them and they have success at a young age and there's a lot of kids who don't succeed and they get beaten up a lot.

And it's often those kids who are a bit more of a slow burn who don't achieve success but really, really want it. They get to 15, 16 and they start to take over all those more elite kids younger, and I think they're the sort of athletes that generally push through, not the ones who succeed when they're really young.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Does it matter when you start to tap talent, Tamara, do you think it matters what age you are?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I suppose we've just been talking about so many different disciplines and I think obviously, you know, to become a ballerina, it's so obvious you have to really, you can't start at 30.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Dan is not going to become a ballerina?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: Dan, you don't be a ballerina. I'm breaking it to you now.

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: That was number two on my list.

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: And there are certain things, you know, I suppose on the piano there are certain fine motor skills that I think are much harder to acquire at an older age.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Older age? Anders, do you think it matters, do you think it matters when people start the training you're talking about?

 

PROFESSOR ANDERS ERICSSON: Well, I think that we know that Chinese children will learn to speak Mandarin are essentially, given that it's a tonal language, they have to make similar kinds of judgments about perfect pitches, and we know that musicians who are brought up in a Mandarin culture, nearly all of them who start early develop perfect pitch. We know other things like turn out in ballet is something that you have to do before the bones calcify and basically you can't now no longer sort of modify the joints. And we're kind of collecting more and more information because as the body is developing, the influence of training will actually modify the path that will then put you in a better situation to reach the highest levels.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Kevin, you started playing something when you were four, what did you start playing? What did you start playing?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Chess.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel about playing it when you were little?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: It was really strategical and you had to calculate a lot and"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You had to make calculations?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And did you like doing that?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you remember how old you were when you played in your first competition?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: I was four.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You were four?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you started playing when you were four?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: So it didn't take very long. You were doing pretty well by four. How good are you at chess?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Um, I play against adults in some tournaments.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You play against adults?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah, and"¦

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you beat them?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah, sometimes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah? And what sort of tournaments?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: In like in rated tournament, like with, yeah, against people who have ratings.

JENNY BROCKIE: So international?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Other countries, people from other countries?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. How old are you now?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: I'm ten.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You're ten, so you've been playing chess for six years?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you going to keep playing?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Um, yeah, maybe.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And Rowan, you're Kevin's brother, how old were you when you started playing?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: I was five.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so a little bit, tiny, tiny bit older?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And you've both played in these international competitions?

 

OWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you feel about playing and how did you feel when you started?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Well it was really strategic and you had to like, it challenged me, I had to use my brain a lot and it was really analytical, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And did you like that?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you think you'll keep playing as well?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Yeah, definitely as a hobby.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Mum, why chess?

 

SAVI WILLATHGAMUWA: Well I had a passion for the game, so I started again when Kevin was four and Rowan was five and a bit. Kevin always wanted a challenge, to be challenged in everything. Like you know, I could see that from a very young age when he was really little so I thought oh, chess would, chess provide him that, you know, provide him just that. And I think we've been about two to three days he was setting up positions for me and telling mummy checkmate me in three moves so - which was incredible because they were not straightforward checkmates. And I said to my husband I'm talking to an adult here. It's not, you know it's not like I'm talking to a four year old.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm interested, I'm interested to talking to you two about what you like to do and what you really want to do. Is there anything you really want to do or that you'd really like to be good at, that you feel I really want to be good at that?

 

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: Probably sport, any sport.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Sport, yeah?

ROWAN WILLATHGAMUWA: I play cricket.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: You should talk to this guy. Okay, and what about you Kevin, is there anything that you feel like you'd really like to have a go at and be good at?

 

KEVIN WILLATHGAMUWA: Um, I like music, yeah.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Scott, passion, I'm interested in talking about passion and whether it has to be a factor in being exceptionally by good at something, or can you be great without passion?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Yeah, I think that the combination of passion and perseverance what Penn psychologist Andrew Dockworth calls grit is quite a potent combination, it's really a very powerful force when these two come together. But a particular kind of passion called harmonious passion is really, has been shown to be more important than obsessive passion.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you mean by harmonious passion, can you explain that a bit more?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Sure, yeah, sure. So harmonious passion is when you have passion for something that makes you feel good about yourself and you're doing it for intrinsic reasons and when you engage in the activity you tend to get in that flow state where all time recedes to the background and you really have that sort of effortless feeling of it. Where obsessive passion is you're doing it for external reasons and you're also, you keep engaging the activity when it's no longer helpful or healthy to continue to engaging. And they've done this study in ballet dancers actually and found that ballet dancers who are an obsessive passion have more injuries and they are quicker to burn out. So it's very important to distinguish between the different flavours of passion.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Lucinda?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: I think in life generally if you're good at something you like it and there's no way I could have been in a ballet studio for as long as I was if I didn't like what I was doing. So to have that love or passion or desire, whatever term you want, I think is imperative to succeed.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you have it Dan? Do you have a passion for"¦

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, for me it actually came after I started because when I launched off on this voyage I didn't really know what it was. As I practiced and learned more about the sport, I started to enjoy it, appreciate it more and then probably, you know, a year in I just, I started to really love it and love what I did and it became, it just becomes a part of you.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Reuben, what about you, do you love running?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yeah, I love running since when I was young boy. I love winning, so I love running.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah. But winning means more to you, doesn't it?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: In Kenya some, we do running as a job so we run as a job. You run in the morning, you run in the afternoon, you run in the evening, just relax, you don't have that job, you running that's why we excel. For example, myself, I born in a poor family and where we problem to get food or even some other things, but when I run, I win, I got money and I thought oh, get money, it changed my life. I bought my house, I bought family house, and everyone from my family change. We changed from poor to somewhere we are at the moment.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And is that a motivator?

 

REUBEN KOSGEI: Yes, it's a big motivator.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Andrew, the mentality to make it in professional tennis, Alisa has talked about this, about, you know, the attitude, mental attitude. I mean do you have to have a particular mentality to make it to be at the top?

 

ANDREW BULLEY: I think elite athletes generally they want to put themselves to the test, they want to see how their training's being going and they want to know where they need to improve so they can keep pushing and pushing.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Scott, what did you want to say?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Research does show that mental toughness does increase with age and it seems to me due to the repeated failure and repeated exposure and toughening up those mental toughness muscles over the years.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Mental toughness, did you have to have it Lucinda as a ballerina?

 

LUCINDA DUNN: You do, yes, definitely.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: And Tamara as a pianist?

 

TAMARA-ANNA CISLOWSKA: I mean when we walk out on the stage, you know, in front of 2,000 people or something, you know, you find out. You find out who you are at that moment. I enjoyed being on stage and I think you find exactly the same with athletes, you know, I mean there's a performance aspect of anything.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Scott, you say that it's important not to dismiss the seemingly untalented. What do you mean?

 

SCOTT KAUFMAN: Yeah, it's something I want to emphasise here that life is not a zero sum game. Just because we have people who younger in life made their prodigies exist doesn't mean that if we weren't prodigies we can't reach the same level of performance. Something that I've been investigating in my own research is that there are multiple paths to the same outcome and I think at the end of the day you can reach the same outcome through a different multiplication of those different traits.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Dan, have you ever been tempted to toss it all in?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: No.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Not at all, not ever had a moment where you've thought look really, I'm over this?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: I mean maybe like a little fleeting moment but not any serious thought. I mean anyone who's ever played golf knows how frustrating it can be. Everyone always wants to throw their clubs into the lake and walk away but I mean at the end of the day I can't picture myself doing anything else.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: When will you stop?

 

DAN MCLAUGHLIN: When I can't walk eighteen holes.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: We do have to leave it there. Thanks so much for coming and joining us Dan and thank you everybody for joining us tonight, it's been terrific. Special thanks too to our guests from New York and Tallahassee and Copenhagen, Scott thank you and Anders and Dirk. Thank you very much for joining us tonight and that is it here but we can keep talking on Twitter and Facebook. I'm interested in what you think about what you heard tonight and what your own experience is of some of this, let us know.