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The Gold Mine Effect by Rasmus Ankersen (a review)

So this one music teacher had half the Beatles in his class – and he missed it.

— Sir Ken Robinson


What would you do if, like the Beatles’ music teacher, you missed the extraordinary talent hiding right under your nose? After overlooking a future star at the Danish football academy where he was coaching, Rasmus Ankersen quit his job and travelled around the globe to uncover the truth about world class talent. Having spotted six tiny locations pumping out wildly disproportionate numbers of elite athletes, he went to live and train with them, to find out what they were putting in the water.

Books on peak performance are like celebrity workout DVDs, they are in plentiful supply and, in the majority of cases, you put on the sweat band and do the lunges with the nagging suspicion that the creator’s abs are painted on and it’s all a tissue of lies. This, however, is clearly the real deal. Access to these incredible coaches and athletes undoubtedly makes this book compelling, gives the ideas within it authority, and allows you to consider the author’s points with less scepticism.

His first hand experiences also allow him to leverage the magic of descriptive writing and transport us, in a few short paragraphs, to a grass track in Kingston, Jamaica, as the coach for the MVP Track and Field Club sets up his folding chair to watch the sprinters. These real world touches really elevate the reading experience. Whilst it doesn’t rely on interviews, the book still manages to put us in the room with the world’s most successful sports coaches, breathing life into their insights.

Ankersen has a lot of points to make. A lot. There’s no waffle and the book is packed out with his observations and examples. This is a double edged sword because trying to integrate so many new ideas at once can be overwhelming and, whilst there are summaries, The Gold Mine Effect doesn’t read like a self help book. It doesn’t offer any easy solutions or tell you what to smear on your muscles to turn you into a sporting powerhouse*. It isn’t interested in selling you on a process for you to follow, so much as dispelling myths and searching for answers to intriguing questions. That’s not a criticism — it’s a real strength, but you’ll probably enjoy the book more if you read it for illumination rather than inspiration.

The upside of this approach is it allows for ruthless honesty. Ankersen is willing to deliver the truth even when it’s unpalatable, make contentious points and admit when there are no convenient answers. In some cases that’s unfortunate, especially when it comes to his question: ‘how do you create hunger [for success] in paradise’.

So, it won’t convince you that you can become a world champion, but it will help you understand the factors at play when it comes to exceptional performance. Because of some of the dispiriting conclusions, like the need to start training at an early age, I wouldn’t read it in isolation, but tempered with the enthusiasm of a book like the The First Twenty Hours by Josh Kaufmann, it’s a hugely worthwhile read.

*So far I have ruled out: butter, mayonnaise, Pantene ProV and sweet chilli sauce

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