Bill Simmons & David Epstein on Range: “Tiger Versus Roger”

Yesterday when I was driving around, I listened to Bill Simmons interview David Epstein about Epstein’s new book, Range.  I learned six important takeaways from that podcast & this article:

  1. Practices and exercises that make a soccer player good at age 12 could make them bad at 22.  The incentive structure is all wrong.  Bill Simmons cites her daughter in Southern California where soccer clubs are forming around the players just to monetize them.  Children are a business!  Apparently, SoCal has invented a U-6 team… only in America!
  2. France has instituted a system that produces a diverse pipeline of players.  Children are encouraged to try different sports during a sampling period… during this time they’re encouraged to try to find what most interests them and what they’re best at.  In Croatia (I think?), Epstein cites a study where all the most gifted and most promising girls are pulled out of the general pool between 9-12 to be put into a specialized soccer program.  By 16-18, virtually all of these girls had quit due to burnout.
  3. The American military is starting to change its program to be more of a “talent branching system”— people change as they grow older.  It’s important that their careers change too. 
  4. “Grit” is not a constant quality– Epstein/Simmons cites James Harden.  Growing up, Harden apparently possessed tons of grit.  But after he became a superstar, Harden started to slack off and wasn’t as consistently hardworking.  Grit changes.  People change.
  5. Major League Baseball hitters able to knock 100 MPH+ fastballs outta the park are unable to hit 60 MPH softballs (which are larger than baseballs!) thrown by women.  It’s because it takes 200 MS for the human brain to just to even visually see the ball.  By this time, the ball is already halfway to the plate.  Epstein remarks: “You could close your eyes at that point and you’d have all the exact same information by the time the ball got to you.”  When players hit baseballs, they’re doing it based on visual cues that the pitcher emits; they’re not actually reacting to the ball (which would require faster-than-human reflexes).  When confronted with a new pitcher, like a woman from softball or a baseball professional from Japan, MLB hitters strike out because they don’t possess the pattern recognition and experience to react to hit the ball.
  6. The one upside to this is that American Women’s National Team being so dominant in soccer is proof that gender equality in America (for sports) far outstrips gender quality is the rest of the world!  Both Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach have said to Simmons that they didn’t start playing soccer until 16!  Morgan played lots of softball and Wambach played lots of basketball.  Wambach credits learning how to rebound well in basketball as the reason why she’s so good at headers in soccer.

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