Book Review: Outliers


“The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.” –Outliers

The tagline of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is: The Story of Success.  I think that’s a topic of interest to most folks and coaches in particular.  I’ve got a story about a teammate of mine who is the definition of the opening quotation.

My teammate, let’s call her Susie, was an all-American at the University of Wisconsin, which was a top twenty-five team at the time.  She was the best, most skilled, and hardest working player that I knew.  She had aspirations beyond collegiate volleyball…Susie wanted to represent our country in the Olympics.  She talked to one of our assistant coaches who’d played on the national team about what she should do…and the coach told her to work harder.

I’m telling you, Susie was already the hardest working player on a nationally ranked team!  She was our best player, she was the undisputed leader, she was a baller.  But if she wanted to move to the next level, Susie needed to work harder.

And if we want to be better, we’ve got to work harder as well.  And so do our athletes.

The rundown:  Like Daniel Coyle talked about in The Talent Code, Gladwell identifies ten thousand hours as the magic number for success.  It’s not just ten thousand hours of casual practice…but motivated, focused, persistent practice.  We’ve probably all coached the athlete who gives up about twenty seconds after we’ve tried to teach her a new skill.  We’ve got to let her know that “success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”

Recommended for:  Coaches who want to get better and who want their athletes to get better.  I believe we all want to put ourselves and our players in the best position to excel and reach our highest potential.  This book will motivate us all to put in the work necessary to never have regrets about our achievement level.

Not recommended for:  Coaches who believe that hard work is all it takes to be successful.  While Gladwell talks about the ten thousand hour rule, he also mentions things that are out of our control that influence success.  Things like the month and year we’re born, the era in which we’re born (if I were a woman fired up about coaching a hundred years ago, I’d be out of luck), affluence or lack thereof, etc.

So, Susie didn’t make the Olympic team.  As I think back, I wonder what would have happened if she’d stuck with it, because she was almost at her ten thousand hours.  Gladwell says that it takes about ten years to reach that threshold…Susie stopped playing in year eight.  We didn’t know about this kind of stuff back then.

But we do now…let’s make sure we’re using the information that’s available to us.

If you love to read books, keep checking back as I talk about three books that are great for coaches, but not made for coaches:  The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, How to Grow Leaders by John Adair, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.