Episode 85: David Epstein

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Description: Host Brad Kearns welcomes the red-hot author David Epstein to the show, on the heels of his whirlwind global tour to promote his bestselling book, The Sports Gene: Inside the science of extraordinary athletic performance. This is widely regarded as the seminal book on the topic of genetics in sports, and in it Dave dispels many widely held misconceptions and prejudices that people harbor relating to how genetics affects athletic performance.

In this conversation, Epstein discusses the pop culture of the “10,000 Hour Rule” (first presented by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Ph.D, and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers.) Epstein dispels the accuracy of science behind the concept and the practical application of the concept. Basically, it’s BS! Genetic factors are relevant, as illustrated by the amazing “Tale of Two High Jumpers” featured in Chapter 2 in the book. Besides great physical attributes, there are genetic elements to the all-important athletic success factor of “desire to train.” People (like phenomenal ultra-athlete Pam Reed) have different dopamine response systems.

When it comes to stereotyping, for example, “Jamaicans are fast sprinters,” one must not overlook cultural factors. In Jamaica, youth track and field is king—there is no falling through the cracks or diverting to other sports. Epstein also writes for the progressive journalism nonprofit called ProPublica.org, which preserves the tradition of long-form investigative journalism. He had a huge impact with his recent article on the doping suspicions surrounding top track field coach Alberto Salazar. Enjoy the show and grab the book on amazon.com!

Show Notes:

  • David did some research on the “ten thousand hour “rule that simply says: “If you put in enough time to anything, you’ll become a master.”   What did he find? [00:03:17]
  • Does repetitive practice help you improve? [00:06:38]
  • What’s the importance of practice variability? [00:10:44]
  • What part does genetics play in the field of high-level athletics? [00:13:05]
  • One surprising thing, when looking at the compulsion to train, involves the dopamine system. [00:18:35]
  • What is the secret of the longevity aspect of training? [00:22:35]
  • What about the belief that athletes from certain cultures are just born that way? [00:25:49]
  • Individualization (peoples’ genetic differences) has been the thing to look at regarding training plans. [00:31:24]
  • Brad and David discuss medicines and medical exemptions as regards doping in sports. [00:34:38]

Selected Links from the Episode:
Usain Bolt
David Epstein
Pam Reed
ProPublica
The Sports Gene
Tale of Two High Jumpers
The Sports Gene: Inside the science of extraordinary athletic performance

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