Why you might want to model yourself on Roger Federer rather than Tiger Woods…
A fascinating article by David Epstein based on a no doubt equally-interesting book caught our eye today.
Epstein argues that the obsession with intense (and, by implication, early) specialisation as the route to excellence may be entirely wrong.
He compares the well-known story of Tiger Woods - swinging a club before he could talk - with the less well-known story of Roger Federer. The tennis star didn’t specialise. He played a variety of sports. He wasn’t a prodigy. Indeed, he refused to play with older kids at tennis classes because he wanted to hang out with his mates. And he didn’t have ‘pushy’ parents. Mrs Federer was a tennis teacher (which may explain Federer’s genetic advantages) but she encouraged him not to take it too seriously.
Epstein even goes further to argue that over-specialisation makes the specialists less effective as time goes on, not more, and creates new problems of its own. Worryingly for a men’s health site, he cites research showing that (in the USA, at least) heart patients are less likely to die if they are admitted during a national cardiology meeting. The reason? Thousands of cardiologists are away from their hospitals and so unable to perform interventions that are popular with them but may be unnecessary. If you have hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Mark Zuckerberg’s inability to solve the problems that his baby has created might be another example. A very gifted early-specialist is unable to think outside the box he built for himself in his youth. Too much, too young, as the Specials - or should that be the Specialists - put it.
Be kind when you change your mind
Why are we talking about this on this site? Well, many men are interested in sports and this article suggests the current way that sportsmen (and women) are hothoused - the football academies hoovering up players at ever younger ages, for example - may not actually be the best way.
But it also says something about careers and life journeys. Perhaps it will help men to be kinder to themselves as they go through their lives. Epstein says: ‘The research pertains to every stage of life, from the development of children in maths, music and sports, to students fresh out of college trying to find their way, to mid-career professionals in need of a change and would-be retirees looking for a new vocation after moving on from their previous one.’
To me, this says it’s never too late to try what you fancy and you may find that the unique collection of experiences you bring to it may enable you to look at it in a new and effective way. I’m not saying you’ll develop a forehand like Roger’s but you may find you get the same degree of pleasure from whatever it is strikes your fancy. And - and perhaps this remains more important to men than it really should be - still be quite good at it.
- The book: Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World by David Epstein (Macmillan; 2019)
- Article: Generalise, don't specialise: why focusing too narrowly is bad for us