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American Program Bureau Speaking to the world for over 50 years

David Epstein

Best-Selling Author of The Sports Gene


Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Based on his bestselling book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, David Epstein, a reporter at ProPublica, tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this timeless riddle.

In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Epstein investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence. Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete’s will to train, in fact have important genetic components. Some amazing facts from Epstein’s work include: Redheads have a higher tolerance for pain than other hair’d people; nearly all professional baseball players have better than 20/20 vision; only a specific tribe within Kenya is actually good at distance running; and 17% of seven-foot-tall American men between the ages of 20 and 40 play in the NBA.

The Sports Gene has been publicly purchased by President Obama at a local bookstore in addition to Condoleezza Rice publicly announcing reading the book; published in over a dozen countries and has received notable attention; recently being recognized as: one of the best books of 2013 for entrepreneurs by Inc. magazine; one of the top five sports books of 2013 by Business Insider Australia; one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2013; a notable nonfiction book of 2013 by Washington Post; Runner’s World 2013 book of the year; and a William Hill Sports Book of the Year finalist. Also, Epstein discussed hacking the human body via technology and sports science at TED 2014, which was called one of the best TED talks of the year by many audience members, has over 1 million video views so far and was named one of Prezi’s Top 100 online resources for presenters and a Prezi staff favorite. In 2014, his book was nominated for the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing, an honor given to the top nonfiction book about sports.

As the former Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated (SI), Epstein has become one of the top sports science and medicine investigative journalist today. His work has appeared in TIME Magazine, Discover, Scientific American, The Washington Post, Slate, National Geographic, British GQ, The Guardian, Inside Higher Ed and The New York Times, among other publications.

All audiences will be captivated by the knowledge and experiences Epstein shares from his work as a journalist and his own athletic pursuits. His thought-provoking speeches will alter the perception of how and why athletes train through learned performance in addition to how coaches develop the people they lead. The wisdom Epstein shares on brain sports science and finding and maximizing one’s hidden talents produces lessons applicable to businesses, colleges, healthcare institutions and anyone following their passion to achieve personal and professional success.


0.5%: The Margin Between Good and Great, and How to Find It

As sports have become high stakes, global competitions, the performance margins that differentiate good, great and legendary have shrunk dramatically. Fortunately, cutting edge science has shone a light on the best path to peak performance, and it contradicts the most popular notions about skill acquisition, like the famed “10,000-hours Rule.” That argument says that only accumulated hours of practice matter to success. In fact, though, future experts start off practicing less in their eventual discipline than their peers. David Epstein explains just what it is that future elites are doing during that time that primes them for later (and greater) success. He also dissects how — once at the top competitive level — athletes are using “small data” to find what factors most matters for performance, and which of those they can change in the pursuit of the final 0.5% of performance. The conclusions from elite sports can guide any individual or team in the search to find their personal 0.5%.

Turning Silver (and Bronze) into Gold: Finding What Matters, and What You Can Change

The famed biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould observed that, in any complex system, a “spread of excellence” occurs over time. That is, the longer people strive in a field — whether that be baseball, chess, computer programming, or stock trading — the higher the performance bar is raised and the greater the number of elite performers who find the keys to success. Consequently, performances at the top converge, until the point when it can be difficult to discern what separates best from second-best. Perhaps no area of human endeavor more easily exemplifies this than sports, where athletes now routinely approach the limit of what is humanly possible. In some cases, elite athletes have converged so greatly that “photo-finishes” no longer work because the camera’s margin of error is larger than the difference between athletes. Thus, it is more important than ever for coaches, sports scientists and athletes to hone in on the tiny, undiscovered advantages that can separate them from their similarly talented and similarly trained peers. David Epstein draws on cutting edge sports science from around the world to describe how elite performers are finding those hidden advantages, and how similar tactics can be applied beyond sports in the hunt for peak performance.

Late Specialization: The Counterintuitive Key to Expertise

Every ambitious person wants a head start. Why, then, have scientists found that the most elite performers in sports — as well as in other areas, like music — actually get off to a slower start than their peers who get out of the gate quickly but who also plateau before they ever reach elite performance? It turns out that an important component of learning any skill involves delaying specialized training so that the trainee has a chance to go through an “implicit learning” phase. That is, they must first have an environment that allows them to “learn like a baby,” free from certain types of coaching that become important later on. While early, specialized training may be good for a head start, David Epstein explains that if a learner is to maximize their capabilities, a coach, mentor, or supervisor must resist the urge to sacrifice long term development for that head start, and instead follow the optimal path of skill acquisition as determined by cutting edge science.

How the 10,000-Hour Rule Hinders Peak Performance

Every high performer has heard of the 10,000-hours rule—the idea that voluminous, task-specific training is both necessary and sufficient for expert performance. But few know that it originates in a tiny study of violinists who were so highly pre-screened that they had already gained admission to a world famous music academy. This would be like looking at NBA centers, noticing they had practiced a lot, and ignoring the fact that being seven feet tall also helped. The danger in the “rule” is that it prevents the kind of talent identification and individualized development that truly leads to peak performance. Through stories and cutting edge scientific findings that range from research on chess masters and musicians to Kenyan marathoners, David Epstein explodes the 10,000 hours myth and, as Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets general manager and co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, puts it: “Epstein reveals the true complexity behind excellence.” Epstein explains how research into talent identification, skill acquisition, and team dynamics can help every individual and team march toward peak performance.

Brain Sports Science: Lessons Learned and How to Apply Them to the Classroom

How many of these twenty words can you recall in ten seconds?...Ready, go!

“Sentence grouped are twenty meaningful to much words random because are they remember chunks into easier part as of a”

Get all that? How about this time…ready, go!

“Twenty random words are much easier to remember as part of a sentence because they are grouped into meaningful chunks.”

You may have guessed that these are the same twenty words, and yet you can remember the second set far more accurately, because you’ve learned groups of words and a system of grammar that allows you to quickly make order of chaos. You are no longer remembering twenty random pieces of information, but rather just a few chunks. “Chunking” is what allows baseball hitters to intercept speeding objects that should be moving too fast for human biology to catch up, and it also enables chess masters to appear to have photograph memories, when really they’ve just learned enough chunks to be as fluent in chess as you are in English. David Epstein discusses how chunking and other work from high performance science can be used in any realm of teaching to get better results, and to instantly improve memory skills.

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