How to Begin a New Skill


Of all the key moments in talent development, the most important and mysterious is the first ten seconds. The first few swings, the first notes, the first stumbly tries. It’s a tenuous time, because it’s a psychological fork in the road. Either you get the Good Feeling (“Hey, this is kinda fun!”), or the Bad Feeling (“Awww, I’ll never be any good”). In short, it’s either an on-ramp or a stop sign.

The deeper question here has to do with design. Namely, how do you create an environment that creates more on-ramps and avoids stop signs?

As it happens, I just came across some videos that do a nice job of teaching how to do just that. They feature Diddy, a two-year-old kid in Yorkshire, England. His father, a PE teacher named Stuart Owen, has videotaped his experiences coaching Diddy in number of sports. (And it’s working — the little dude is pretty amazing. Click here to check out the full set.)

While the videos are useful for parents, I think they also provide a nice blueprint for anybody who wants to start out on the right foot.


  • 1) Keep it small. Don’t be ambitious. Focus on one simple core action, not a whole complicated series of them.
  • 2) Have a clearly defined, do-able target. Don’t aim vaguely or abstractly — this is about creating a small game, with clear feedback so the person can instantly see for themselves where they’re at — how they can get closer next time.
  • 3) Make it fun. Create an environment free of judgement, and where successes are celebrated like crazy.

The payoff of this design is evident: you can see how much Diddy loves it. Not because he’s being praised (which is nice), but rather because he’s in an environment tilted to help him discover an immensely powerful fact: trying new skills, while it feels strange at first, isn’t that hard after all.

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6 Responses to “How to Begin a New Skill”

  1. Kevin Taylor says:

    I’m finding your work very valuable.

  2. Jez Grundy says:

    Great article – did you know that Stuart Owen is also a coach for (Simon Clifford’s) Brazilian Soccer Schools – as featured in the Talent Code? He is a great coach for all ages.

  3. djcoyle says:

    Hey Jez, That is fantastic! Thanks for sharing that. Looks like the Brazilian Soccer School is creating some terrific talent, thanks to Simon and Stuart and the rest.

  4. Sims says:

    Another from of Brazilian soccer:

    That video cracks me up.

  5. MrMcHargue says:

    As a coach of three sports now, (softball was an assigned duty for this new teacher!!) I have enjoyed reading The Talent Code and exploring this website. One thing that I am having a hard time adjusting to is having student-athletes who are not students of the sport they play. What is a way to promote this ideal and attempt to challenge the existing mentality? And this stems not from merely wanting to win, but a desire to grind out games and compete at the highest level at all times.

  6. Amado says:

    Just want to say your article is surprising. The clarity in your post is just
    excellent and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please carry on the rewarding work.

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