Athlos Book Club: The Talent Code

Turning Athlos Schools into Talent Hotbeds

“Although talent feels and looks predestined, in fact we have a good deal of control over what skills we develop, and we have more potential than we might ever presume to guess.”

Daniel Coyle


By: David Jeppson | President | Athlos Academies

This month Athlos staff read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and discussed how we can incorporate principles from the book in order to turn Athlos schools into “talent hotbeds.” The premise of The Talent Code is that talent is not a natural gift, but rather something that can be taught. This book happens to be a favorite of mine. I’ve read it multiple times now, and each time I come away from it with a new understanding.

Too often people mistake hard work and practice for natural talent. How many times have you heard popular singers or athletes referred to as an overnight success? The Talent Code dispels this myth. The author argues that greatness isn’t born, it’s grown. Talent is actually myelin, a neural insulator, which wraps nerve fibers and transfers electrical impulses more quickly and accurately.

The author then goes on to explain how myelin is developed—through deep practice, motivation (which is referred to as “ignition”), and master coaching.  Coyle describes master coaches as listening more than talking. “They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments. They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality.”

It wasn’t until my latest reading of the book that I recognized the importance of master coaches. They are able to give students direct feedback in the moment. They individualize the learning experience for each student so that it’s the right mix of motivation and stretching current abilities. They are guides on the side to developing myelin.

So what are the implications for education and what we’re doing at Athlos?

First, achieving “gifted” level talent in anything can be learned by anyone. Athlos schools are open to all students, and we believe that athleticism is a healthy life skill that anyone can learn. Our definition of athleticism has much more to do with being a fit and efficient mover for life!

Second, we need to praise students for their efforts, not the outcomes. This kind of praise ignites them to deep practice.

Finally, as we assist teachers in becoming master coaches, we need to model what Coyle teaches about talent development. Our professional development should be geared around deep practice and igniting master coaching skills within our teachers. We must spend more time giving direct, concise, and timely feedback. After all, as Coyle says, “Great teaching is a skill like any other.”


Written by: Dave DenHartog

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