Is 10,000 hours a magic number for sport expertise? Part 2: The 10 year / 10,000 hour rule in sport

The previous Expert Advantage blog post introduced the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule and discussed evidence from chess and music suggesting that 10 years and 10,000 hours of practice are required in order to attain expertise in these domains.

How about in sport? Do elite athletes require 10 years of experience and 10,000 hours of sport specific practice to reach the highest level of sport performance?

This question has been investigated by a number of sport expertise researchers in a variety of different sports including, among many others, figure skating, wrestling, triathlon, soccer, field hockey, netball, and basketball. Sport-based research suggests that the majority of international level athletes have participated in their main sport for a period of 10 years or more before being selected for the national team. An investigation of the sporting experiences of United States Olympic athletes competing between 1984-1998 indicated an average time period of 12-13 years from introduction to main sport to Olympic selection (1). Similarly, a study of Australian national team members in the sports of basketball, netball, and field hockey also identified that the average number of years from introduction to main sport to national team debut was also 13 years (2).

Interestingly, although 10 years of experience may be required in order to reach the highest level of competition in a variety of sports, 10,000 hours of practice does not appear to be as much of a necessity. After 10 years of involvement in their sport, international level wrestlers only accumulated approximately 6,000 hours of sport-specific practice (3), and international level soccer players only 4,000 hours (4). In fact, in a study of international level soccer and field hockey players, it took athletes approximately 18 years to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice! (4) Even more surprising is that in the same study of Australian national team members in the sports of basketball, netball, and field hockey mentioned above, even though the athletes had been involved in their sports for approximately 13 years before making the national team, they had only engaged in an average of 4,000 hours of sport-specific practice during this time! One athlete even reported making the national team with only 6 years experience and 600 hours of participation in her sport! (2)

So how do these athletes reach such a high level of performance with relatively little experience in their domain? Subscribe to The Expert Advantage through the link on the right hand side of the page to find the answer to this question and learn more about the development of sport expertise. Coming posts include diversification as a pathway toward expertise, the role of deliberate play in the development of sport expertise, and talent transfer and deliberate programming as accelerants to sport expertise.

The Pathways to the Podium Research Project will continue to explore the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule as a requirement for sport expertise, and will investigate more closely the different types of practice activities that athletes are engaging in throughout this time. To read more about the Pathways to the Podium Research Project and to register your interest in becoming involved, please visit our website at http://www.yorku.ca/podium.

References

1. Gibbons, T., Hill, R., McConnell, A., Forster, T., & Moore, J. (2002). The path to excellence: A comprehensive view of development of U.S. Olympians who competed from 1984-1998 United States Olympic Committee.

2. Baker, J., Côté, J., & Abernethy, B. (2003). Sport-specific practice and the development of expert decision-making in team ball sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 12-25.

3. Hodges, N. J., & Starkes, J. L. (1996). Wrestling with the nature of expertise: A sport specific test of Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer’s (1993) theory of “deliberate practice”. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 27, 400-424.

4. Helsen, W. F., Starkes, J. L., & Hodges, N. J. (1998). Team sports and the theory of deliberate practice. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 20, 12-34.

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About Pathways to the Podium Research Team

The Pathways to the Podium Research Team consists of: Ms. Melissa Hopwood, PhD Candidate, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Dr. Joe Baker, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Dr. Clare MacMahon, School of Sport and Exercise Science, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Dr. Damian Farrow, Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
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7 Responses to Is 10,000 hours a magic number for sport expertise? Part 2: The 10 year / 10,000 hour rule in sport

  1. Jason says:

    I think the 10,000 hour rule has been a great thing for people examining sport pathways. It has made us all realize how long it takes to become great at any one thing. It has also made people question how uniformly the 10,000 hour rule applies across sports. Now that we know it isn’t uniform, each sport can begin to figure out how many hours those athletes will need to become experts! Would anyone happen to have already figured that out for volleyball?

  2. Jason, the Pathways to the Podium Research Project will be quantifying the practice histories of athletes from a variety of different sports. We do already have a number of volleyball players of varying skill levels participating in the study, so hopefully we will be able to shed some light on this question. Stay tuned!

  3. jason says:

    I really like the question you are trying to answer. Any chance you’d be able to find out if the number of hours is different for volleyball players that play different positions while you are at it?

    • Unfortunately the Pathways to the Podium Research Project will not be considering positional differences in the development of expertise. Instead, the focus is on similarities and differences in the developmental histories of athletes between sports, between males and females, and between different countries. This initial multi-sport investigation is sure to highlight some important sport-specific questions for the future, and position-based investigations will surely be very interesting.

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  5. kevin says:

    “So how do these athletes reach such a high level of performance with relatively little experience in their domain? Subscribe to The Expert Advantage through the link on the right hand side of the page to find the answer to this question and learn more about the development of sport expertise. ” <– I've subscribed. You have a very interesting blog. How do I get the answer to the question in this article? thanks

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for subscribing. Browse through our previous posts, and stay tuned for upcoming posts discussing a variety of factors that contribute to the development of sport expertise and accelerate learning. We have not been too active on the blog lately, but we will be posting a new article shortly on associations between sport expertise and sibling participation in sport and physical activity!

      I hope you continue to enjoy our blog,

      Melissa Hopwood
      Pathways to the Podium Research Team

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