The Talent Builders

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Two related news items from last week: Tom Martinez died, and Jeremy Lin kept succeeding.

1) Most people haven’t heard of Tom Martinez. The obituaries mention that he coached at a small school in California; he worked with a succession of quarterbacks who became great, most prominently Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Martinez is described as Brady’s “guru” because Brady visited Martinez most years for a tuneup.  They also mention the amazing fact that Martinez also coached  three sports (football, softball, basketball), and achieved more than 1,700 wins, 32 championships, with never a losing season.

I spent a few days with Martinez reporting The Talent Code. Of all the master teachers I met, he might have been the most masterful. I remember him telling me how he taught himself to be a good teacher — “I trained my eyes to be a camera,” was how he put it. I remember how curious he was about the Little League baseball team I was coaching; how he grabbed my notebook out of my hand so he could diagram a drill for me to use. (I did use it; it worked fantastically well.) I remember how much deep pleasure he got in watching Tom Brady perform; I also remember the even deeper pleasure he got from helping a mediocre player improve to become average, or even excellent.

2) Last week, as the entire planet is aware, Jeremy Lin kept succeeding. His miracle story — from overlooked nobody to multitalented all-star — captivates us. But if you scratch the glossy surface, you can see that it’s anything but a miracle. In fact, (as this terrific story shows) Lin’s talents have been constructed with the help of a group of teachers and coaches — Doc Scheppler, Stephen Silas, Kenny Atkinson, Eric Musselman, and Phil Wagner — his own crew of anonymous, invisible Tom Martinezes. Lin’s success hasn’t been fueled by some gift, but rather by a sustained act of cooperation and construction: intensive, targeted workouts over the past two years to build the exact skills he’s now showing the world.

Great teachers and coaches are mostly invisible. But the truth is, nobody builds their talent alone. We’re all standing on the shoulders of the people who taught us, who designed the spaces where we learned. Finding ways to find, define, and celebrate those underappreciated people might be one of the most powerful things we can do.


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8 Responses to “The Talent Builders”

  1. Rod Roth says:

    Dan, So sorry to hear of the passing of Tom Martinez. I knew enough about him to understand his special gift to aspiring athletes. Thank you so much for the Jeremy Lee story! It validates The Talent Code and gives another boost to those of us still aspiring to “overnight” success in our respective fields

  2. Kevin says:

    The article on Lin portrays a guy with a high degree of grit, especially in a league with players who seem, at least on the surface, to lack that quality.

  3. Walter says:

    Being a crazy college hoop head myself i can will remind most that in college Lin was an amazing player and one of the best 30 in the land. He went to Harvard so the competition wasn’t the greatest thus he fell off the radar a tad. The media however is always looking for another “rags to riches” story, or a new “Hero”. They make it sound like this guy was some nothing that all of a sudden is making a name for himself when in reality as mentioned, he’s always had game. He averaged 17.8ppg in his junior year and scored 27 points 8 assists and 6 rebound against a very good Boston College team who had upset #1 N. Carolina the game prior. In his SR year he was one of the 11 finalist for the Bob Cousy Award and against a very very good U. Conn team he dropped 30 on them, with 9 rebounds! My point is, the guy could always play. Because he’s from Taiwan, loves God, and was not drafted, and played D- League the media makes it sound like the guy went from zero to hero. He took a longer route to the NBA because he played in the Ivy League. Had he gone to a Duke, NC, or a top 5 program he would have been drafted in the NBA.
    He was surrounded by great coaches who worked with him, but Lin put in tons of time and hard work. It’s now paying off for him, which is great to see.

  4. Thanks for the discussion and really interesting topics to share with us. Nice to be a part of the history.

  5. Mark Komlosi says:

    What was the drill that Tom Martinez diagramed for you?

  6. djcoyle says:

    Thanks for asking — it was a bunt coverage drill — kind of like “The Wheel” where everybody’s on the move.

  7. Andrew says:

    I also wandered if anyone was in the process of writing a book about Martinez? It seems that people could learn so much from someone like him who was a great teacher and was able to coach in 3 sports as different as basketball, football and softball.

  8. djcoyle says:

    Hey Andrew: I could not agree more! Tom is the perfect example of the unsung coach hero, who deserves to have his story told. I wish I had the time to tell it myself. But if anybody out there is interested, I’d be happy to share about 60 pages of notes from our interviews.

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