10 Surprising Lessons from the World’s Most Successful Talent Hotbed

Here’s a fascinating question.

If you had the chance to take an insider look at one of the world’s most successful talent hotbeds, which would you choose?

Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code, defines talent hotbeds as places where usually are small, low-key, operations but produces extraordinary disproportionate results. For instance, Coyle visited a dilapidated facility in Russia with a single tennis court that over a period of three years produced more top twenty professional tennis players than the entire United States.

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What perhaps the talent hotbed that produces the most amazing results isn’t Russia. It’s China, namely the Chinese divers.

The Chinese divers do not merely dominate the sport, they are a class of their own. They are more like diving ‘gods.’ In the last World Cup of Diving, China has won gold and silver in every single event. That is, in nine events, no diver from any other country beat a single Chinese diver. The results from Olympics also affirm their diving prowess. They won 24 of a possible 32 gold medals. The stats are simply mind-boggling.

Rett Larson is a performance manager for the Chinese diving team and lives part-time in Shanghai where he is instrumental in developing and overseeing the team’s training. So, check out Rett’s video below and expect to be amazed!

Rett shared this incredible list of ten lessons he has learned from the world’s top talent hotbed:

1. We mix ages like crazy

The juniors aren’t all lumped together like they are in most systems — instead, three-time Gold medalists train with top 10-year-olds.  Each diving coach might be responsible for five athletes – three Olympic veterans and two juniors.  The juniors get to mirror the elites all day, from training to eating to bedtimes. It also creates a sense of humility in the juniors, who have likely dominated in their provinces since they were six years old.

2. We spend most of our time working on super-basic dives

The Chinese have a higher training volume than the rest of the world – often more than 100 dives per day.  But many of those dives are very basic.  The first ten dives of the day might all be starting with your butt on the edge of the platform and falling into a simple dive. That’s it — and that’s the point.

3. We applaud spectacular failures

For the past decade China has won almost every competition by doing simple dives very, very well.  Their technical proficiency is incredible because they practice longer and harder than any other country.  But, they also know that they have to push themselves and innovate.  You’ll see in the video a male diver attempting to be the first human to do four flips from the 10-meter board starting from a handstand. He doesn’t make it — spectacularly. What you don’t see is the ovation he gets from the rest of the team after his failed attempt.

4. We are obsessive about coaching every single rep

Each dive is given feedback, even the basic ones. A dozen coaches sit on the side of the pool and give immediate feedback on every dive that their athlete performs that day.

5. We avoid allowing our athletes to specialize in one discipline

The 10-meter platform divers won’t spend all day on the 10m board.  They’ll have dives on the 3m, 5m, 6m, 7m, and even the springboards depending on what their coach wants them to work on. Each day the athletes receive a laminated sheet with their daily dives listed.

6. We accomplish our most important work outside of the pool

Chinese divers perform dry-land training better than anyone else in the world. If you ask the coaches – this is what has led to China’s dominance.  As you’ll see in the video, their dryland training facilities are a Disneyland for divers.  Like their dives in the pool, each athlete has a laminated sheet of dryland exercises that take them from the trampoline to the foam pit to the mats or to the runway to practice approaches.  They move around the gym and are never on one piece of equipment for more than 20 minutes.

7. We seek lots of feedback from lots of coaches

As the athletes move around the dryland training area, they move into the zones of different coaches who offer a variety of corrections based on what their “coaching eye” sees.  Chinese coaches all share a basic methodology so there’s no worry of conflicting messages being sent.

8. We use video as much as humanly (and technically) possible

In both the dryland facility and the pool there are closed circuit cameras that catch the dives being performed.  After the athletes get out of the pool and receive feedback from the coach, they can look up on the huge monitors and see the dives for themselves.

9. We seek ways to establish team identity through sacrifice

No other Olympic team in the complex trains before 9 a.m. — but three days a week, our team rises early to train at six — because it’s a sacrifice. There’s no need to train at 6am instead of 9am.  They do it because it’s inconvenient, and it creates an air of “we work harder than anyone else.”

10. We have waa-aay more fun than you might guess.

Dryland training is a place where there is frequent playing around and laughing.  The coaches let the athletes be kids.  Now I’m not saying that it’s like a frat party (this is Communist China, after all), but compared to many teams I’ve worked with over the last 2.5 years in China, they have a good time.

Here’s what I love about the ten lessons. Daniel Coyle makes a perceptive observation: “Half of the ten principles (numbers 1, 3, 5, 9, and 10) have zero to do with training methods and everything to do with the organization culture.  Mixing ages, applauding failure, avoiding specialization, embracing sacrifice, and having fun are not training techniques — they are shared values that apply far beyond just diving. They are powerful signals that create a cohesive, high-performing tribe of people.”


  • I really like #1 & #5 – Those who are young need to see what success looks like. (Not just told what it looks like) I think they also find that more is caught than taught.

    Regarding #5 it is important that we focus on where our talent lies but diversity keeps us challenged and keeps us learning.