April 14, 2021

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

by Upper Hand in Player Development

I highly recommend the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle to all parents, players and coaches. The book has been helpful shaping how we strive to create a positive, hockey-rich learning environment where players can improve their hockey skills in a profound way.

Below in bold please find concepts that Andrew Coyle developed in his book. In italicized, I have quoted Coyle and I also share how we implement Coyle’s concepts in our teachings.



Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals. The story of skill and talent is the story of myelin…myelin is similar to another evolution-built mechanism you use every day: muscles.


Myelin is a neurological substance that wraps around and insulates the fibers of your nerve cells like beads on a string, improving the speed and accuracy with which bio-electrical signals travel through the brain.

Driscoll Skating & Skills: Coyle differentiates between myelin development and muscle development. He likens muscles to the arms and legs of a puppet, while myelin is the strings controlling the action of the arms and the legs. Basically, muscles are useless unless the myelin has been developed.


Deep Practice: (which requires hard work, mental struggle, and extreme attention to detail) is required.


Struggle is not optional—it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit. You must also keep firing that circuit—i.e., practicing—in order to keep myelin functioning properly.


People called the Pietà pure genius, but its creator begged to differ. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery,” Michelangelo later said, “it would not seem so wonderful at all.”


If you were to visit a dozen talent hotbeds tomorrow, you would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers. When I say “observing,” I’m not talking about passively watching. I’m talking about staring—the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.


Driscoll Skating & Skills: I have found that the more we slow down our teaching, the better the players learn, both during an hour session and over the long-term.


Highly talented pockets develop because they Accelerate Deep Practice:

  1. Brazilian soccer players and futsal (developed 1930s)
  2. Florence and its craft guilds (12th-16thcenturies)


As it turns out, Florence was an epicenter for the rise of a powerful social invention called craft guilds. Guilds (the word means “gold”) were associations of weavers, painters, goldsmiths, and the like who organized themselves to regulate competition and control quality…What they did best, however, was grow talent. Guilds were built on the apprenticeship system, in which boys around seven years of age were sent to live with masters for fixed terms of five to ten years.

  1. Meadowmount School of Music and its 5x increase in learning speed for elite music players.

These feats are routine at Meadowmount, in part because the teachers take the idea of chunking to its extreme. Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, which are stuffed into envelopes and pulled out in random order. They go on to break those strips into smaller fragments by altering rhythms. For instance, they will play a difficult passage in dotted rhythm (the horses’ hooves sound—da-dum, da-dum).


Driscoll Skating & Skills: Competitive figure skaters skate 1,000 hours per year and spend approximately 800 of those hours doing edge work. We have hockey players playing at a high level doing zero power skating and edge work. One of the groups is severely off-sides in their thinking.


Chunking is a secret to Accelerated Struggle:

In the talent hotbeds I visited, the chunking takes place in three dimensions. First, the participants look at the task as a whole—as one big chunk, the megacircuit. Second, they divide it into its smallest possible chunks. Third, they play with time, slowing the action down, then speeding it up, to learn its inner architecture.

As football coach Tom Martinez likes to say,”It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slow you can do it correctly.”


Driscoll Skating & Skills: This comment applies meaningfully to the skating progressions that we use. We are trying to encourage perfection of movement during the exercise above all else. Generally, we: i. Teach the movement ii. Practice the movement iii. Encourage the movement in practice situations to develop confidence at full speed iv. Encourage the movement in games at full speed under pressure.



Ignition is about the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity; the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be. For South Korea’s golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year-old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and became a national icon…Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.

Driscoll Skating & Skills: For Boston-based youth hockey players, ignition is in place as they are competing in a traditional hockey hotbed and have grown up idolizing many players that have made it from Massachusetts youth hockey to the National Hockey League.


Long-term commitment is a huge predictor of success:

With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent. The long-term-commitment group, with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster than the short-termers who practiced for an hour and a half. When long-term commitment combined with high levels of practice, skills skyrocketed. “We instinctively think of each new student as a blank slate, but the ideas they bring to that first lesson are probably far more important than anything a teacher can do, or any amount of practice,” McPherson said. “It’s all about their perception of self. At some point very early on they had a crystallizing experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says, I am a musician. That idea is like a snowball rolling downhill.”


Great teachers are key – but they’re not what we commonly think of as great teachers:

Instead, the teachers and coaches I met were quiet, even reserved. They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years. They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking. They listened far more than they talked. 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.


Driscoll Skating & Skills: Our coaches are familiar with Andrew Coyle’s observations. We strive to be consistent in our verbiage with all players and we make an effort to connect with all of the players on the ice. Two important concepts above are “small, targeted, highly specific adjustments” and an “extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching”, and both concepts that are core underpinnings of our thinking.


I do believe that we are teaching the most important Skill (skating) in the best way we know.