Bounce, by Matthew Syed; Open, by Andre Agassi
Sunday 21 November 2010
Four of the six books on the shortlist for this year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, to be announced on 30 November, have already been reviewed here – Blood Knots, Beware of the Dog, Trautmann's Journey and A Last English Summer.
Of the two which complete the set, Bounce (Fourth Estate, £12.99) is an ambitious attempt to try to discover what factors need to coincide to produce a sporting world-beater. Syed, a former Olympic competitor himself, has done his homework, drawing together research in sports science, neuroscience, psychology and economics in a book that fizzes and bubbles with ideas.
Some conclusions seem obvious – the harder you work, the better you get – while others are startling, such as the crucial importance of the time of year you were born.
Syed also looks at the reasons behind choking, explains how three sisters became the best female chess players in the world, and answers the question as to whether black athletes have genetic advantages that make them superior in some sports. Fascinating stuff.
Andre Agassi gets a mention in Bounce for his obsessive practising, so it's a surprise to read him claim in Open (Harper, £8.99) that throughout his career he hated tennis.
And that was not his only problem: he had the archetypal tennis father from hell, his hair fell out, his marriage to Brooke Shields went phut, he took drugs, he suffered from depression... Taking everything into account, it's amazing that he managed to look so pleased with himself all those years on court.
Just when you wonder if he will ever stop whingeing, he finds happiness with Steffi Graf. It couldn't come too soon for him, or me.
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