Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal, Wayne Rooney, Tiger Woods — significant riches aside, what do these men have in common? Natural sporting ability that mere mortals such as you and I can only dream about? Not so, says Matthew Syed, the Times columnist and three-time Commonwealth table tennis champion, whose book, Bounce, challenges the idea that top sportsmen — as well as experts in other fields — enjoy God-given gifts that the rest of us lack. David Beckham was not born with the ability to take a brilliant free kick, Roger Federer is not blessed with extraordinarily sharp reactions: these skills were developed as a result of hard work and practice.
The first part of Bounce demolishes the idea that talent is the key to success. The path to the top, Syed argues, is a combination of opportunity — being in the right place at the right time — and hard work. Syed uses his own experience to demonstrate the importance of opportunity: his parents, neither of whom was a table tennis player, decided to buy a tournament-specification table for Syed and his brother; both came to love the sport, spurring each other on. The head sports coach at their school was a table tennis fanatic and he invited them to join a local table tennis club. The importance of this club cannot be overstated. For a period in the 1980s, Syed’s neighbourhood produced a disproportionate number of the UK’s outstanding table tennis players — six of them lived on the Syed's street.
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