story behind tiger woods and roger federer success

Slow Down: Why Falling Behind Will Make You More Successful

Content summary taken from David Epstein’s Range

Our best-know icons of success are elevate for their precocity and their head starts–Mozart at the keyboard, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the other kind of keyboard.

The response, in every field, to a ballooning library of human knowledge and an interconnected world has been to exalt increasingly narrow focus.

Tiger Woods underwent a disciplined regime of golf training spending all day at a golf course form the age of two. He has come to symbolize the idea that the quantity of deliberate practice determines success — and its corollary, that the practice must start as early as possible.

On the other hand Roger Federer dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming and skateboarding. He played basketball, tennis and soccer at school. Not until he was a teenage did he even take tennis seriously, opting many times to not move up in age groups because he wanted to practice with his friends. By the time Federer finally gave up other sports, other kids had long been working with specialized coaches to perfect their tennis game. But this didn’t seem to hamper his development in the long run. In his mid-thirties, typically when tennis players retire, Federer would still be ranked number one in the world.

Tiger and Federer would later meet and debate over who was the most dominant athlete in the world, but their paths to success are very different.

Tiger engaged in the specialist view which advocates that “the more competitive and complicated the world gets, the more specialized we all must become.”

Research shows that elite athletes spend more time in practice each week that those who plateau at lower levels

On the contrary, Federer path underwent a sampling period. During his sampling period, he tried a wide variety of different activities.

When scientists examine the entire development path of athletes from early childhood it looks like this:

Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice, instead they undergo a sampling period where they play a variety of sports where they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw.

Six time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was first drafted into professional baseball before football.

Czech athlete Ester Ledecká won gold in two different sports (skiing and snowboarding).

Ukrainian boxer Vasyl Lomachenko took four years off boxing as a kid to learn traditional Ukrainian dance before setting a record for the fewest fights needed to win world titles in three different weight classes.

Tom Brady’s Super Bowl Rings

Cognitive psychologists have proven learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when it means making slower progress than others. The most most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind.

Where Specialization Fails

The 2008 global financial crisis was largely caused by the degree of segregation within banks. The same bank ended up lowering homeowner mortgage payments and foreclosed on homes when they noticed the homeowner was paying less.

Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual takes the most reasonable course of action.

Highly specialized health care professionals have succumb to similar pitfalls. A recent study found that cardiac patients were actually less likely to die when the cardiologist was away from the hospital, because they wouldn’t be there to suggest the common treatment which is many times the wrong treatment.

Our Hyperconnected / Isolated World

“The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentivizes, even demands hyperspecialization.”

While it is true there are areas where we need people with Tiger’s precocity and clarity of purpose, as technology spins the world into vaster webs of interconnected isolated systems, we need more Rogers: people who start broad and embrace diversity and different perspectives while they progress.

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