Sep 10, 2019

Why Top Athletes Like to Dabble and Frequently Quit

Epstein cites Roger Swiss tennis star Roger Federer as an example of a highly successful generalist. (Photo: TPN/Getty)

In athletics, there's a long-held belief that greatness demands specialization. To be the best, you have to start young and maintain a laserlike focus. The archetypal example is Tiger Woods, who reportedly started swinging a golf club before he could walk. Recently the focus has shifted to grit. The secret to success, we’re told, isn’t skill but the ability to persevere. Yet that may not be the whole story. In his book Range, David Epstein challenges arguments for specialization and grit, arguing that a more generalized approach is the surest route to excellence. Outside’s Christopher Keyes spoke with Epstein about the advantages of doing a bit of everything and why the most telling story of a superstar athlete doesn’t come from golf, it comes from tennis.

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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, which was developed in partnership with PRX, distributors of the idolized This American Life and The Moth Radio Hour, among others. We have since expanded our show and now offer a range of story formats, including interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and politics, as well as reports from our correspondents in the field.