Epstein gives us several reasons why athletes are doing better in their individual sports. From the perspective of a psychologist, the most significant is mindset and motivation. Listen to what he has to say.

Why you should listen:

David Epstein writes about the developing science around sport — from performance-enhancing drugs to the lucky genetics that separate a professional athlete from a duffer. A science writer and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated, he’s helped break stories on steroids in baseball, fraudulently marketed health remedies, and big-money irregularities in “amateur” college football. In 2007, inspired by the death of a childhood friend, he wrote a moving exploration of the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes, a hard-to-diagnose heart irregularity known as HCM.

Who is he:

An investigative reporter at ProPublica, Epstein is the author of The Sports Gene, a book that explores the complex factors that make up a championship athlete. Is there such a thing as natural greatness, or can even extreme skills — like the freaky-fast reaction of a hockey great — be learned? Conversely, is the desire and will to master extreme skills something you’re born with?


  1. Give three or four broad area that Epstein says have improved sports performance.
  1. Coaches used to think that the best performance could be had by training the “average” athlete. Where is the problem in this idea?
  1. Athletes are now running marathons at a pace only slightly slower than the 4 minute mile. What is a significant contributor to this performance?
  1. As performance has increased in gymnastic events, the age of winning performers has dropped. According to Epstein why should this be the case?
  1. Coaches and athletes now spend a lot more time on the mental part of the sport. Describe some of the ways that this improves performance.
  1. Should we treat “studenting” as a sport, and provide competition and coaching, technology, and continuous monitoring to improve performance in the classroom. Among other items this would demand public posting of class placement for each student after every test. Good or bad idea?

Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger? with David Epstein


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