Pathways to elite performance

If we were to take a sample of some of the World’s most decorated athletes, and have a quick glance at how they came to arrive at the pinnacle of their respective sports, we would find that there are a number of alternative pathways toward achieving sporting success.

On the one hand there are athletes like Tiger Woods who are considered child prodigies due to their high level of involvement and achievement in their sport from a very young age. On the other hand there are athletes like Wayne Gretzky who, although quite successful in their sport as a child, are known to have played a variety of sports until late adolescence. Yet still different again, there are athletes like Clara Hughes who after being hugely successful in one sport, decide to transfer their skills to another sport, subsequently achieving great success in the second sport as well!

The Pathways to the Podium Research Project will explore the sporting experiences of athletes in detail, however in an upcoming three-part series we review the existing research relating to alternative pathways to elite performance. The first article in the series will consider elite performance via early specialisation, the second will discuss elite performance via diversification, and the third will look at elite performance via talent transfer.

If there is another pathway toward elite performance that you would like to discuss, or there is another topic you would like to read about, post a comment below or contact us as podium@yorku.ca.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Expert Advantage using the links in the menu bar to receive automatic email notification when new articles are posted. Check back soon for part 1 of the pathways to elite performance series – elite performance via early specialisation.

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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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Is 10,000 hours a magic number for sport expertise? Part 1: The 10 year / 10,000 hour rule

Many coaches, parents, and athletes have heard at some point throughout their involvement in sport that 10 years and 10,000 hours of practice are required in order to become an elite athlete. The 10 year / 10,000 hour rule, as it has come to be known, is prominent in popular “talent” books such as Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. It is also a popular topic of discussion at coach education workshops, and is identified as one of the 10 key factors influencing the Canadian Sport for Life Long Term Athlete Development framework.

Where did the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule come from and does it apply to sport?

In the first of a two part discussion, I will outline the origins of the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule, while Part 2 of the series will consider research investigating the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule in sport.

In 1973 the American Scientist published a research paper that would later become one of the most influential articles in cognitive psychology and the study of expertise (1). The research conducted by Herbert A. Simon and William G. Chase at Carnegie-Mellon University in the United States, was primarily focussed on the perceptual-cognitive processes associated with skilled performance in chess. Among a number of fascinating findings, Simon and Chase identified that:

“There appears not to be any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person has reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions, and a Class A player 1,000 to 5,000 hours.”

And so the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule was born.

In 1993, K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer extended support for the 10 year / 10,000 hour rule into the musical domain (2). In what was to become another seminal research paper for the study of expertise, Ericsson and his colleagues asked violin players of four different skill levels to estimate the amount of time they had engaged in a variety of practice activities throughout the entire course of their involvement in music. The four groups of violin players included students at a leading music academy who were deemed by their teachers to be most likely to attain a career as an international soloist (“Best”), students at the same music academy deemed by their teachers to be likely to attain a career as a performer in an international orchestra but not as a soloist (“Good”), students training to become music teachers, not performers (“Teachers”), and a group of professional violin players (“Professionals”). By the age of 23, all participants in the research study had engaged in violin lessons for a period of 10 years or more. The graph below shows that at age 20, both the “Best” students and the “Professionals” had accumulated approximately 10,000 hours of practice over the duration of their careers, while the “Good” students and the “Teachers” had accumulated less than 8,000 hours and 5,000 hours respectively.

Source: K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

In the domains of chess and music, research suggests that 10 years of experience and 10,000 hours of practice are required to reach the highest standard of performance. Do elite athletes also require 10 years of experience and 10,000 hours of practice before qualifying for competition at the international level?

This question will be answered in Part 2: The 10 year / 10,000 hour rule in sport. . Be sure to subscribe to The Expert Advantage using the menu on the right to receive notification when Part 2 is posted. In the meantime please visit the Pathways to the Podium website at http://www.yorku.ca/podium to find out about our current research project investigating the development of sport expertise and to register your interest in participating. You can also follow us on facebook at http://tinyurl.com/podiumfacebook.

References

1. Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55-81.

2. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

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Welcome to The Expert Advantage!

Thank you for visiting The Expert Advantage – the official blog of the Pathways to the Podium Research Project.

Throughout the course of the Pathways to the Podium Research Project, brief insights into the secrets and science of sport expertise will be posted here to keep you updated and educated on the latest information relating to skill acquisition, motor learning, and the development of sport expertise.

Many of The Expert Advantage blog posts will focus on the information that is driving the Pathways to the Podium Research Project. In particular, we will be discussing what we do know and what we don’t know about the typical progression from sport introduction to sport expertise, as well as the factors that may influence this pathway.

On occasion, The Expert Advantage will also discuss recent research relating to coaching and practice techniques targeted towards maximising learning and enhancing sport performance, and will offer insights and reflections from conferences and workshops attended by the Pathways to the Podium Research Team.

We hope you enjoy reading The Expert Advantage. Please feel free to post comments, questions, and feedback on any of our pages, and be sure to subscribe using the link in the menu bar on the right hand side of the page.

We are looking forward to sharing the secrets and science of sport expertise with you!

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