I have written several times over the years about the 10,000 Hour Rule. While I understand that this is not in fact a ‘rule’, it has always been an intriguing idea for one reason. Explicit in the ‘rule’ is the importance of practice. And not just any practice, deliberate practice which has the specific goal of improving performance. This is the most powerful, and more or less only, takeaway.
Since it was first popularised by Malcolm Gladwell, the ‘rule’ has been often used to prove that talent does not exist. For example by Daniel Coyle and Matthew Syed. The suggestion that talent does not exist is an intoxicating one, particularly for coaches. Coaches can tell their athletes that hard work is the sole determinant of success, everyone has an equal chance, and the coach is central to process of achieving excellence, and use these books to back up those claims. Unfortunately, they continue to maintain this stance despite the fact that it is patently ridiculous.
With that background, I read a blog post that quoted studies digging deeper into the importance and effectiveness of training. The researchers quoted a figure of 18%. That is, practice accounted for 18% of variance in sports performance. For the non maths experts, 18% is less 100%.
“Our conclusion is that, of course, deliberate practice is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor or even the largest factor,”
Shockingly, the author of the study on which all of this is based, K. Anders Ericsson, disagrees with that conclusion*, pointing out all sorts of flaws in interpretation and method.
To rub salt into the wounds,
“…it’s time to get beyond the idea that talent is either “born” (genetic) or “made” (all about practice). Instead they propose what they call a “multifactorial” model. It features arrows going all over the place in an effort to capture how factors like basic ability, personality, and deliberate practice affect each other and the overall development of talent.”
It is incredibly attractive to think that for every situation there is only one answer. It allows us to simplify the world into patterns we can more easily understand. Coaches love to think that there is a best technique or method and applying it will inevitably lead to success. Attractive as it is, this kind of thinking doesn’t take into account reality. There are so many factors involved that trying to identify a single answer can only ever lead to superficial thinking.
There is NEVER only one answer.
*Presumably Gladwell, Coyle and Syed also disagree.
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