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Podcast | The 10,000 Hour Rule

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 10/13/16, 1:45PM EDT

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How talent can be developed through practice

Why I Love 10,000 Hours - By Ian Taylor, OMHA Director of Development

The talent debate has been a hot topic over the past decade. Are talented people, in whatever vocation – businessmen, musicians, athletes - born or made? Certainly genes and heredity play a part – think of long-distance runners from the Rift Valley in Kenya – as well as environment and opportunity.

There is also the concept that talent can be developed through practice – that it can be manufactured.

In 1993, Dr. Anders Ericsson published the results of a study on a group of violin students in a music academy in Berlin that found that the most accomplished of those students had put in an average of ten thousand hours of practice by the time they were twenty years old.

This has been popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers where he promotes ‘The 10,000 Hour Rule’.  According to this rule, it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master in most fields. As evidence, Gladwell pointed to our results on the student violinists, and, in addition, he estimated that the Beatles had put in about ten thousand hours of practice while playing in Hamburg in the early 1960s and that Bill Gates put in roughly ten thousand hours of programming to develop his skills to a degree that allowed him to found and develop Microsoft. In general, Gladwell suggested, the same thing is true in essentially every field of human endeavor — people don’t become expert or ‘world-class’ at something until they’ve put in about ten thousand hours of practice.

Gladwell has come under scrutiny for his over-simplification of this ‘rule’ including from Ericsson, himself, as people have interpreted it as a promise that almost anyone can become an expert in a given field by putting in ten thousand hours of practice.

It's been lauded – C4SL - 10-year-rule, been poked fun at (see Dilbert comic below),  taken to task - 10,000-hour-rule-was-wrong-according-to-the-people-who-wrote-the-original, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis even wrote a song about it - Ten Thousand Hours.

So, why do I love ’10,000 Hours’?!

Simply put, it’s a great vehicle to promote key concepts of Long-Term Player Development to players, parents and coaches. In minor hockey, we are not looking to create ‘experts’ – we simply want to provide a development pathway that allows our players to maximize their enjoyment in the sport.

The beauty of ’10,000 hours’ is that it promotes the message that effort and focused practice, matter – and not just in sports – in school work, at hockey or learning a new trick on a skateboard. The number of hours shouldn’t be the focus here. Improving at anything, involves pushing outside your comfort zone. Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code refers to this as operating “…at the edge of your ability” and this is not always easy – in fact, it can be a struggle. Again, this a great lesson to all students, musicians and… hockey players. Managing that struggle and overcoming adversity are life-skills that will benefit them in all aspects of their life.

Through our hockey development programs at the Ontario Minor Hockey Association we have tied the concept and that of ‘deliberate practice’ to our OMHA Players Club which includes the 5000 Puck, 10,000 Touches and 30/30 challenges which provides a framework for players to develop their shooting, puck control and ABC’s (agility, balance and coordination) at home. It also gives players the opportunity to be creative, take control of their own development and, hopefully, work at the edge of their abilities.

Deliberate practice is a structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. This means it must be: intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and is repetitious.

If there’s a downside to the 10,000 hour paradigm - in youth sports, including minor hockey, this has put some parents on alert and started a race for their son or daughter ‘to get to 10,000 hours’ as soon as possible, in search of ‘world-class’ status at age ten. While it’s easy to interpret the 10,000 hour rule as meaning hockey players should focus all their athletic time on the game of hockey to accumulate as many ‘practice hours’ as possible at younger ages, however, this has tremendously negative physical and psychological consequences.

We use ‘10,000 hours’ as a vehicle to promote Long-Term Player Development – as mentioned earlier it’s part of Hockey Canada’s and Sport Canada LTPD model – which includes these key concepts:

  • Build physical literacy skills – physical literacy consists of fundamental movement skills (running, gliding, jumping, kicking, catching…) that lay the foundation for more complex movements, thereby preparing children for a physically active lifestyle.
  • Age-appropriate programming – it’s crucial! – this means doing the right things at the right stage in their development.
  • Hockey is a late-specialization sport – specializing before the age of 10 can cause overuse injuries, burnout and a lack of fundamental movement skills.
  • Excellence takes time – it takes a lot of years to be great and we need to view player development as a long term process.

For those on the fast-track – athletes must be physically literate and have developed before their 10,000 hours even starts – there is a reason, for example, the best defencemen in the game, generally, don’t become ‘world-class’ until they are 27-28 years old. It is okay for parents to want their kids to get to the highest levels but they need to know the best way to go about it. They call it long-term player development for a reason – age-appropriate skills + patience; improvement & enjoyment are inevitable.

That’s why I love 10,000 hours!

10,0000 Hours of Hockey Practice

1.    Structured hockey practice
2.    Individual skills practice (5000 Puck & 10000 Touch Challenges)
3.    Unstructured hockey (pond hockey; road hockey)
4.    Watching video of personal performances
5.    Watching practices, games, and/or video of players at higher levels
6.    Playing multiple sports
7.    Off-Ice Training (30/30 Challenge)

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