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Are there born champions?

What does it take to become world-beating – or just very good at sport? Do we inherit our … read more

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What does it take to become world-beating – or just very good at sport?

Do we inherit our talents, are we born champions or can someone teach us to be a winner?

This great book by British and Commonwealth table tennis champion, Matthew Syed takes personal experience and sports science to unravel the answers – and they aren’t what you think. The book is a bit older but not outdated.

Be curious and watch Matthew talk about his personal experiences

  • Why did 6 of Britain’s most successful table tennis players during ’80s all live in the same road in Reading?
  • Why do some clubs seemingly produce all the winners?
  • Does genetics help create sporting champions?
  • What does training hard really mean for rowers?

When Matthew turned 19, Chen Xinhua of China, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport moved to England. He agreed to coach Matthew.

Within minutes of getting both of them together to train, it became apparent that the Chinese concept of practice had no relation to ANYTHING Matthew had yet seen or imagined.

Instead of playing against each other with a single ball, Chen took a bucket of a hundred balls, placed them beside the table. Then he proceeded to fire them from different angles, at different speeds, with different spins. And always (and this was the ultimate revelation of his genius for coaching) calibrated so as to be constantly nudging the outer limits of Matthew’s speed, movement, technique, anticipation, timing and agility.

Matthew’s body and mind were forced to leap into a new gear to keep up with this “multi-ball” training. Over a period of 5 years, Matthew’s movements, speed, positional awareness were transformed and his world ranking rocketed. Was he a born champion?

From Bounce by Matthew Syed.

What can rowing learn from this anecdote?

Well, at least as a coach I can challenge the orthodox and ask myself: Are there any methods beside the traditional teaching to make rowers successful. Tell us what you think in the comments below. Have a look at our education shop site. Maybe you find your training method there.

Buy Bounce

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

2 thoughts on “Are there born champions?

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    Sound’s like you were as impressed with Bounce as I was!

    I was so impressed that I actually tracked down Matthew and interviewed him for a podcast that we run. I think you might like to hear the complete interview as it provides a far more in depth analysis of the Book and Matthew’s background, than You Tube. Here it is:

    Considering your line – you may want to explore the podcasts as well (

    Would be great to hear your feedback!


    1. Kevin
      Thanks for linking to this – we agree about Matthew and have already agreed an interview with him! Great minds think alike.

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