Book Talk: Range by David Epstein
Every other Monday for the blog will be the "Monday Grab Bag", this will be the time where I'll talk about a variety of things. Could be a race review/report, commentary on something going on in the running world, etc. This week I've decided to talk about a book! I'm not going to say that this is a "review", because I'm not going to be the one to tell you whether a book is good or not, not my job. I'll just be talking about my impressions of the book, and maybe ponder some ramifications on the running/coaching world.
Something I hope to do in the evolution of my own personal life and coaching specifically- is to never stop reading and learning. There is always a ton of fascinating information coming out, from all over the spectrum, that has an impact on coaching and the running community in general. I hope to continue being open minded and able to absorb this information and let it mold the way I think about working with athletes, and how I think about being an athlete myself.
This week I'm talking about "Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein (I'd like to apologize to all my English and History teachers for murdering the formatting of the title). I had read "The Sports Gene" by Epstein a few years ago, and when I heard that he was coming out with another title, I was very excited. He researches thoroughly and writes in an engaging way, making it easy for people who aren't necessarily science minded (100% me) to figure out what the heck is going on. It also helps that the title of this newest book operates as a useful thesis for what it's about, and readied me for what I was about to learn.
The book opens up with one of my favorite opening chapters of any book that I've read recently. I actually read the introduction at Bright Side Bookshop (shout-out to my favorite local bookstore) and was immediately engrossed. It's titled "Roger vs. Tiger" and compares the upbringing of two of our generations most dominant athletes. I don't want to spoil the whole deal, but this introduction really sets the stage for the whole book: Early specialization vs. experimentation and generalization. It's like the WWE match of the century. From early on in the book though, it's easy to figure out which one is going to win.
To continue with this wrestling metaphor; Epstein brings study after study after study to this fight, wielding the facts like a metal chair; knocking early specialization on the mat early and often, and pinning it down for the easy 1-2-3 count. He doesn't just do this on his own, but tag teams with the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Phil Knight, Frances Hesselbein (if you don't know who she is, read the book, or look her up), Johannes Kepler, and more. All generalists, all shining stars in their respective fields. To further reinforce his thesis, Epstein highlights interviews with people on the leading edge of their fields, who have significant experience on this topic.
To put it succinctly, people who have a breadth of experiences, tend to be able to think more creatively, solve difficult problems, and are generally more successful in the fields they end up in. They experiment throughout their careers, trying to find something that is the right match; sometimes failing, but eventually ending up doing something that is a better fit for them. This circuitous path, while seemingly unproductive and counter-intuitive, is an essential piece in becoming successful. You don't need to stay on the straight and narrow your whole life to be successful, which feels like a breath of fresh air to some of us millennials, who are constantly chastised for experimenting and trying to find our way.
So what does this have to do with coaching? Well, I think, especially when working with younger athletes, it reinforces the decision to let young athletes experiment a bit. There tends to be pressure to specialize at an early age, but research and Epstein tells us that it's better off to let young athletes try a variety of things, test their strengths, and see what they like. If they do decide to specialize at some point, they won't be all that far behind their peers, and they'll catch up to them quickly. Usually surpassing early specializers.
As a running coach, I think it also informs us, that even athletes who come to the sport later in life have the opportunity to excel and get better. Just because they haven't been a runner before doesn't mean that they can't become one now. Everybody has the potential to be an athlete, so regardless of your background, you can excel and improve as a runner. If you've been an athlete in the past, whatever you've done will translate to and improve what you can do as a runner.
With all that said, I highly recommend "Range", I was into it from the beginning and really enjoyed it the whole way through. I think mostly everybody will be able to glean something useful from it, and it's certainly worth the read. Want to pick up a copy? GO TO YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE! No Amazon affiliate here.
Have you read Range? Do you think I'm wrong i
n my assessment? Comment!
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Thanks for reading!