Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Practice, with passion, makes permanent
From the Evansville Courier Press, May 16, 2009
I always tell campers and youth soccer players that practice makes permanent, not perfect — that how and what you train will stick with you on game day.
According to acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell, practice — not natural ability — is the key to becoming a world-class expert in your field. Ability, according to Gladwell, is just one factor in success. Work ethic, luck, a strong support base and even being born in the right year plays a far larger role.
Gladwell references the 10,000-Hour Rule in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success." The 10,000-Hour Rule says that you need approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert in a field. The rule applies to geniuses like Mozart and Bill Gates.
"What's really interesting about this 10,000-hour rule is that it applies virtually everywhere," Gladwell told a conference held by The New Yorker magazine. "You can't become a chess grand master unless you spend 10,000 hours on practice. The tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 (such as) Boris Becker. The classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so."
The obsessive approach is evident in sporting icons. Tiger Woods in golf and the Williams sisters in tennis have trained relentlessly since they were children.
The greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians and scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field. The years spent intensively focused on their area of expertise place the world's most successful people above their peers.
Think about that: If you consistently practice 4 hours a day for 6 days a week, you will still need 8 years to get 10,000 hours.
When I read about the 10,000 hour rule, I was reminded of the Gary Player quote: "The harder you work, the luckier you get." When you really think about it, those who put in hours of practice effectively make their own luck. The harder you work and the more time you put in, the more prepared or "lucky" you are when asked to perform.
I had the opportunity to see a piece of Tim Gibbons and Tammie Forster's landmark study for the United States Olympic Center's Athletic Development Program, "The Path to Excellence," in which they provided an in-depth look at the development of U.S. Olympians who competed between 1984 and 1998. The average U.S. Olympian began his or her sport-specific participation at the average age of 12 for males and 11.5 for females. Most Olympians reported a 12- to 13-year period in which they developed their talents (practiced) to make their Olympic team.
While watching my 7-year old son play last weekend, I was taken aback by a parent who was screaming at their child for both not playing well enough and not working hard enough. It made me think about both the 10,000 hour rule and the US Olympic Center study — If the average Olympian is starting to compete in their sport at the age of 11 or 12, and it takes 12 to 13 years to develop those talents, how motivated will this player be to set out on that challenge if he has been demoralized and mentally beaten down before he turns 8 years old?
Passion and support need to go hand in hand with practice. When you think of anything you were really good at, you probably were very passionate about it as well.
I can't believe that a young competitor would invest 10,000 hours in an activity if they didn't really enjoy it. Doing something you love is essential to meet your 10,000-hour mark, and I don't think that your child can be pushed towardthat. If you are passionate about it, it will help you go through the difficult times. It will help you overcome boredom. Without that passion, your 10,000 hours will be a painful journey, and unlikely to be reached.
As parents and coaches, we have to make sure that we are supportive of our children's endeavors. If you have to force your players to go out and practice, they will do it begrudgingly. In most cases, the players who are most passionate are the ones that work the hardest. If you can instill a passion for the game and a strong work ethic, everything else will take care of itself.
Not every athlete will train for 10,000 hours or become an Olympian, but their best chance for success is to develop an appreciation for practice and a passion for their sport.
Posted by Mike Jacobs at 5:55 PM