Excellence Takes Time
How long does it take for athletes to reach the top of their game? About 10,000 hours of training and competing. For most athletes, that translates into about 10 years.
Research has shown that it takes 10,000 hours of quality training for athletes to achieve their full potential and perform at an elite level. In most examples of top-ranked athletes and other star performers, their 10,000 hours are usually accumulated over at least 10 years of training and competing.
This translates into an average of 3 hours of daily training, applied practice and competition over 10 years. Again, this is an average over the span of 10 years. It is not desirable to see children formally “training” in one sport for three hours every day when they are 7 years old. Training hours increase during adolescence, and this rounds out the average.
Children should be active in a variety of sports and physical activities throughout the year while they are elementary school age. They should have daily physical activity that includes a blend of free play and formal activity that features quality coaching and instruction.
Increasing training hours
By the time an athlete has chosen to specialize in one sport – usually around age 14 – they should begin formal daily training for that sport. Their overall training hours should begin to approach 3 hours per day or more if they want to reach an elite or professional level.
Not all of these “training hours” will involve training directly in their sport. Many of the hours will include generalized components such as flexibility training and fitness training (e.g. running, gym workouts).
Olympic athletes and the 10-Year Rule
In a comprehensive review of U.S. Olympians who competed between 1984 and 1998, the research revealed the following facts:
- U.S. Olympians began participating in their sport at the average age of 12.0 years for males and 11.5 years for females.
- Most U.S. Olympians reported a 12- to 13-year period of training and development from introduction to their sport to making the Olympic team.
- U.S. Olympians who won medals tended to be 1.3 to 3.6 years younger than their teammates when they were introduced to their sport, suggesting that medalists benefited by receiving motor skill development and training at an earlier age. (Note: This does not say that they specialized in their sports at a young age. Caution must be taken not to fall into the trap of premature specialization, since it can actually have negative effects on the athlete’s long-term development.)
Bestselling books such as The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, Bounce by Matthew Syed, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell discuss the significance of 10,000 hours of training and deep practice. These books are excellent popular reads that cite examples such as David Beckham, the Beatles, Mozart, and Michelangelo to illustrate how training and practice are far more significant to achieving excellence than “natural talent” or genetics.
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