The 10,000-hour rule, popularized by the 2008 Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers, is simple: nearly anyone can be an expert at anything with at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Trying to get an athletic scholarship? Want to make it in the NFL? Put in at least 10,000 hours—or 10 years—of practice, the rule says, and you’re likely to succeed.
The 10,000-hour rule was first proposed in the early ’90s by K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson and two colleagues published a paper after studying top performers in a number of areas. In one of their studies, 20-year-old violinists at an elite music academy were judged by their conservatory teachers. In every instance, the very best students had more than 10,000 hours of practice. No students managed to get by on talent alone, and no one with more than 10,000 hours of practice lacked sufficient talent to make it.
But how does the 10,000-hour rule apply to sports?
NFL lineman Justin Tuck and NBA small forward Gerald Wallace addressed the rule at the 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, moderated by Gladwell. “When you have that talent and you have so many gifts at an early age, you get swayed and blinded by the fact that it’s always going to be that easy,” Tuck said. “In college, I’ve seen guys that are unstoppable, but when they get to the league, they disappear because they haven’t developed that work ethic and drive—that whenever obstacles come in your way, you’re going to figure out ways to win.”
The next time you feel that the hours you’re spending in the gym don’t matter, remember the 10,000-hour rule. Practice does make perfect. It just takes time.
Photo: Sports Illustrated