What is the 10000 Hour Rule?
According to Anders Ericsson, it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a genuine expert or, in the case of swimming, to become a world class swimmer. Can you break this rule?
Performers are made, not born
What the 10000 hour rule is really saying is that great performers are made and not born. There’s still plenty of debate about that, but when it comes down to it, this is the right message for swimmers, coaches and parents to take on board. Whatever the role of innate talent in sport, it is clear that no matter how talented you are it takes a great deal of hard work to get to (and stay at) the top of the sport. Ask Michael Phelps.
Of course, there’s also the numbers. 10000 hours equates to 20 hours of practice a week, for 50 weeks, over 10 years.
Does it have to take that long?
Well, that’s an interesting one. According to Ericsson, and a lot of data, the answer is “yes”. Anecdotally, however, we all know of people that appear to have broken the “rule” – teenage superstars like Phelps, Janet Evans, Ian Thorpe or Krisztina Egerszegi can’t have completed the 10000 hours, can they, even taking into account that they will have done more than 20 hours later on in their development?
I guess that there are two ways to interpret that: either that for every rule, particularly a statistically driven rule, there are exceptions; or, that they were still developing when they made an impact at the world level. I suspect that there is some truth in both interpretations.
“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice – practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself from” Ericsson et al, 2007.
So, can you break the 10000 hour rule?
Honestly, I don’t know. Ericsson himself says that there are no shortcuts (see quote). However, what you can certainly do is ensure that your ‘deliberate practice’ is as focused, efficient and effective as possible.
Tips for making your practice more effective
These are just some ideas for making practice more effective, so that you don’t waste hours (taking longer to become an expert), but the list is by no means complete:
- Review your performances, good and bad(I now I keep saying this, and I will keep saying it!)
- From that, keep working to make your strengths stronger
- Turn areas for development into training goals, linked to your performance goals
- Seek every opportunity for feedback – from your coach especially, but others too (being mindful of the possibility of conflicting advice)
- Use video – if you have access to video analysis, use that as often as possible, but at the very least have someone record races for you to watch
- Keep and look back at information about your swims – build your ‘database’, monitor your progress and look for patterns in your performance
- Become a ‘student’ of swimming and take more responsibility for decisions about your training (offer solutions to your coach, not just problems)
- Know why you are doing what you are doing. If you are working on aerobic development, you know that taking extra rest simply diminishes the value of the set, whereas skipping rest can diminish the value of a speed set
- Focus on the detail. Just how far off the wall are you kicking? Where exactly is your hand catching the water? What were your actual times / HR for the set?
If you have tips of your own, if not to break the 10000 hour rule, to make more efficient and effective use of your ‘deliberate practice’, please share them as a comment.
Ericsson, K. A., Prietula, M. J., & Cokely, E. T. (2007). The Making of an Expert. Harvard Business Review (July-August ).